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Redistricting has its reasons

January 28, 2002

Redistricting has its reasons



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com


Eastern Elementary School, forced by overcrowding to convert its science and computer labs to classrooms, may soon have those basic school features back if the Washington County Board of Education votes Tuesday to shift 118 students to other schools.

The school's overcrowding was a result of a population boom in that district and the school system's efforts to reduce class size, said Dennis McGee, director of facilities management. The School Board took out the labs and other specialized rooms, including a room for special education students and the media center to make more classrooms, he said.

"The Board of Ed had two choices, to stuff 26, 27, 28 students into a room or move some out," McGee said. "We'd rather keep our class sizes small."

Eastern, which began the school year with 605 students, has the capacity to hold 584. The goal of the school system is to have about 21 students per classroom, McGee said.

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Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said boosting the quality of education through balanced enrollments has been the thrust of the school system's five-month long redistricting study. It includes possible school boundary shifts in several of the county's elementary, middle and high schools.

School officials have said smaller classrooms allow for more individualized instruction and provide more educational benefits, such as computer and science labs, that overcrowded schools had to remove for classroom space.

But there are other factors that propelled the redistricting push, school officials said.

Redrawing school boundary lines is less expensive than building new schools to decrease overcrowding, Morgan said.

"We don't have the money just to build a new school to relieve overcrowding," she said. "We're talking millions and millions of dollars."

Redistricting students also will increase the student population at under-enrolled schools, she said.

South Hagerstown High School is one of those that is under-enrolled with 868 students. The school has the capacity to hold 1,184 students, according to the School Board. Through a redistricting proposal the board is considering, South High would gain more than 200 students over the next several years, many coming from overcrowded North Hagerstown High School.

"You have to use your existing facilities more efficiently," Morgan said. We've really taken a hit from various people in the community because we have buildings that are seriously under-utilized."

School and county officials have argued that under-enrolled schools are more expensive to maintain in cost per pupil than schools that are not. Cost per pupil includes administration and instructional salaries, instructional materials, special services, transportation and operation of facilities.

Cost per pupil, in part, is determined by dividing staffing costs by the school's enrollment. The higher the enrollment, the lower the cost per pupil. And the lower the enrollment, the higher the cost per pupil.

The School Board will vote on which redistricting proposals to approve on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m. at the board's central office at 820 Commonwealth Ave.

"It isn't like we're doing some of these things on a whim," Morgan said. "We're trying to satisfy a lot of masters."

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