Baltimore County schools officials said they would seek to better communicate with Rodgers Forge parents, at the first of several meetings for those affected by plans to move fourth-graders down the road to Dumbarton Middle School this fall.
A number of parents at the more than two-hour meeting, which took place Monday night at the elementary, said they felt they’d been left out of the decision-making process. One mother described the letter sent home to parents about the move as "a bomb."
In response to a request from several of them, school officials in attendance agreed to be better about keeping them in the loop – particularly with regard to the timeline for building the new Towson elementary school slated to open Aug. 2010. One father suggested forming some kind of parent group to be more involved in the planning process moving forward – an idea to which Lyle Patzkowsky, the central area assistant superindent, seemed amenable.
The communication issue was one of several questions, concerns and comments the 70 or so parents had for school officials in attendance. Besides Patzkowsky, Susan Deise, the Rodgers Forge principal; Nancy Fink, who heads Dumbarton; and Michele Prumo, executive director of the planning department were there. Some of the other highlights follow:
***The new school was a semi-heated point of discussion. Deise noted that Rodgers Forge is now the most overcrowded school in the state, about 80 percent overcapacity. Many parents said they don’t see how the school, meant to alleviate the problem, can open on time, given the unpredictability of construction schedules, weather, etc. With that concern, several asked for some kind of guarantee that their children wouldn’t be at Dumbarton for two years instead of just one.
Patzkowsky declined to make such a promise, saying that they are operating with the understanding that all is on schedule now. Any plans to extend the Dumbarton move because of unexpected developments would be made further down the road, he said.
***The shuttle. Several expressed their concerns about the two-minute shuttle ride taking their kids from Rodgers Forge to Dumbarton. One mother said she wanted to drop her child off at the school where he’d be for the day, not rely on the school to get him there. Another said the shuttle plan wasn’t environmentally friendly, and suggested the kids should walk. (Deise said that was one point she wasn’t as willing to budge on, primarily because of safety. There's difficulty in ensuring that 120+ kids would make it over to Dumbarton safely on foot. Time is also a factor, as I noted earlier this week. It would take longer for that many children to make their way over to DMS, which would, in turn, disrupt the class schedule and instruction time, Deise noted.)
***The options. Patzkowsky briefly ran through the various alternatives considered when dealing with an overcrowding situation. School officials can consider redistricting, using portable classroom buildings, building an addition to the school or building a new school. Then there is, of course, the option chosen for next year - to move some kids to another school. Patzkowsky said school officials usually start with the most simple and move to the more complex.
Rodgers Forge already has portables – and no space for more – and has reached the point where there is simply no more classroom space to spare, Deise has said.
***And finally, for a bit of levity, here are some of the comments Deise got from the third-graders as she made the rounds, explaining their upcoming move:
"Can we take our school pictures at Dumbarton and be in their yearbook?"
"Is it possible to have a Disney shuttle bus instead of a regular old yellow school bus? What is a shuttle bus anyway?"
"Will Mrs. Deise still be our principal and Mrs. Brown our assistant principal?" (Yes.)
"Is it true that we can use the DMS snack machines?"
"Can we go to Dumbarton as soon as possible? It really is too crowded at RFE. I was wondering when someone was going to do something about this problem."