West Towson Parents Question Future Planning
In the second meeting this week on plans to send some West Towson Elementary students to Ridge Ruxton, parents questioned school officials about future enrollment projections
More than 100 West Towson and Ridge Ruxton parents attended a meeting Wednesday night in the former's gymnasium on plans to annex next year's West Towson fourth-graders to four classrooms inside adjacent Ridge Ruxton, which serves special needs students up to age 21.
"I think it's the most likely solution, given the situation," said Kristy Knupple, a Gaywood resident and parent of two West Towson students, with a third about to enter kindergarten. "I think it's the best case scenario."
The meeting, markedly more upbeat than Monday's meeting at Ridge Ruxton, focused not just on the logistics on the proposed move but also on the school system's plans for future overcrowding solutions that would prevent having to do so again.
West Towson, which opened in 2010 with a state-rated capacity of 451 students, now serves 519 students and is projected to hit 591 by next fall. Options for school officials are limited—trailers cannot be placed on the property and other nearby schools, including Riderwood and Rodgers Forge elementary schools, are also overcrowded.
Hershfeld began the meeting by revisiting the plans discussed Monday. West Towson would move fourth-graders into three current classrooms on the east wing of Ridge Ruxton, and a fourth that will be created by removing a partition between two offices.
All students moved there will have lockers near their classrooms. A storage area will turn into a new set of bathrooms. A set of doors will separate the two populations. Students would return to West Towson for special periods, lunch, nurse visits and other activities.
"They're not leaving West Towson," Hershfeld said. "They're still Westies, in every sense of the term 'Westies.'"
Parents at Ridge Ruxton expressed concerns on Monday that the annexing will cause undue stress on programs there. Principal Ed Bennett said at the Wednesday meeting he plans to meet again with parents to address questions about the proposal.
Hershfeld stressed that the plan was not final. The administrators' proposal will be presented to Superintendent Joe Hairston sometime in the next couple of weeks.
"Your input matters," Hershfeld told the parents.
Hershfeld said the annex solution would work for the next two school years. But by that time, according to Kara Calder, the executive director of planning and support services for Baltimore County Public Schools, the system hopes to have a new elementary school in the Mays Chapel area, which would be followed by redistricting in the York Road corridor. Meanwhile, work is in progress on an expansion at Hampton Elementary and due to begin soon at Stoneleigh.
Fourth-graders were chosen because school leaders felt older students could better handle the move and because fifth-graders have instrumental music, which would have created added disruptions by students going from one building to the other.
So what's next?
Many parents who submitted questions asked about the quality of the system's projections and why the school system did not plan for more students.
"My frustration with this process is that we continue to put a Band-Aid on the same problem that's been going on year after year," said Sue Corona, a parent of three West Towson students. "We have great leaders and great principals and they will deal with it, but why do we continually have to deal with it? Let's fix the problem."
Calder said that West Towson was originally built for 451 students because that was the number that county and state projections showed was needed at the time. It wasn't built larger due to safety and evacuation concerns.
"Everyone was in agreement of our projection numbers when the shovels went in the dirt here," Calder said.
She attributed the influx of new students to residents moving into Towson shortly after the new school opened in 2010 or taking children out of private school to take advantage of West Towson and Rodgers Forge.
Cathi Forbes, president of parents group Towson Families United, said she had "some sympathy" for the impact of that rush on the system's enrollment projections, but worries what will happen in middle and high schools in coming years.
Another potential solution for elementary overcrowding, building a new special-needs school at Mays Chapel instead of a new elementary school and taking over the current Ridge Ruxton entirely, was ruled out by state rulings against funding a new public special education day school, Calder said.
Parents also suggested that the county take a more creative approach, including possibly moving Bykota Senior Center out of what was once Towson Elementary School.
"It's certainly something that we can continue to talk to the county about," Calder says. "We really do look at many, many options."
Greenwood not an option
Some Patch commenters suggested in response to Monday's article that the school system should demolish or repurpose buildings at the Board of Education headquarters on the other side of North Charles Street.
Calder said, in response to a submitted question, that the Greenwood mansion there is on Baltimore County Landmarks List and that environmental concerns, including the area's flood plain, also preclude building an elementary school on the site.
"We did think about it and we did look into it," Calder said.