Local: Education

New schools, projects considered for overcrowded Montgomery schools

|
Photo - Students at Arcola Elementary School in Silver Spring (Examiner file photo)
Students at Arcola Elementary School in Silver Spring (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Education,Lisa Gartner

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr wants to examine overcrowding at 12 elementary schools in the southern part of the county, with the potential to add more portable classrooms, build new schools or change boundaries.

Starr also is asking the Montgomery County school board to begin a boundary study for an elementary school opening in Clarksburg in 2014.

But unlike Clarksburg, where enrollment is booming from new development, school officials say the Downcounty Consortium's enrollment is exceeding forecasts because multiple families are sharing homes, and families are having more children, amid an increase in Latino families.

The consortium includes five high schools -- Montgomery Blair, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Northwood and Wheaton -- and the middle and elementary schools that feed into them.

Crowding is most severe at Arcola, Forest Knolls, Harmony Hills and Sargent Shriver elementary schools, all of which are expected to exceed their capacities by more than 92 seats in the next six years. For example, a 12-classroom addition increased Forest Knolls' capacity to 506 seats in 2005, but enrollment is projected to hit 689 students by the 2018-19 school year.

"Resolving space shortages at elementary schools in the midsection of the [area] will be a complex undertaking. It is evident that solutions to the space shortages at these schools could result in the need to adjust school boundaries when additional capacity becomes available," Starr wrote in a memo to the school board, which is scheduled to review the recommendations at a work session Thursday.

Although he added that changes to school boundaries "definitely would occur" if a new elementary school were to be built, he cautioned that no boundaries would change until more space for students was identified, and that the school system would rely on portables in the meantime.

Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning for MCPS, said the area is growing faster than initially predicted because of the lagging economy and higher birth rates.

"You might have more children coming out of a house because two families are living in it ... Neighborhoods have turned over, younger families are coming in, some of them immigrating or coming from other parts of the country," Crispell said.

Ricky Ford, the Downcounty Consortium's PTA representative and a father of two Northwood students, said he was grateful that school officials were eyeing overcrowding in his area.

"Anything we can do at this point to make sure we're at least paying attention to the issue is fantastic," said Ford, noting that boundary studies down the line could be "contentious."

"That gets very nasty in the community," Ford said. "We have to be careful not to create schools of 'the haves' and 'the have-nots.' "

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment