West Towson Elementary update
As many in Towson already know, a hearing took place Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court about a group of residents' request to stop the Board of Education from continuing with its plans to build West Towson Elementary.
I wanted to share a letter to the editor from local resident Kris Culp about the overcrowding and the suit against the board, posted here with her permission.
I was pleased to read that some neighbors to the proposed second school on the Ridge Ruxton School site in Towson have chosen to challenge the School Board’s decision to move forward with a project of questionable merit (Neighbors sue school board over plan for new Towson elementary in 4/24/09 Sun).
Your article quotes a real estate attorney in Towson as saying “In most instances, the state’s concern is that the local government capacity calculations satisfy the state’s requirements. That becomes the threshold issue, not necessarily matters of process.” This suggests that just because there is overcrowding, the process is unimportant. This is appalling! A respect for process by government agencies is one way the public is assured their tax dollars are being spent responsibly.
Let’s look at some numbers. The proposed school, called the Towson West Elementary School, is to be located on the southern portion of the Ridge Ruxton School site. This site is located inside the boundary of the nearby Riderwood Elementary School. Riderwood has a state-rated capacity of 463 students and its enrollment as of September of 2008 was 517 students (according to data at http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/planning/public_facilities_planning/adequate_school_facilities.html ). Riderwood has 54 extra students this year. Yet a new school designed for 451 students is being built within its boundary.
The next closest school district to the site is Rodgers Forge Elementary. As has been widely publicized, Rodgers Forge Elementary School is overcrowded. It has a state-rated capacity of 396 students, yet its enrollment as of September of 2008 was 707. So, take the 311 extra students from Rodgers Forge Elementary and zone them for the new school.
A careful reader will see a problem here. There aren’t enough extra students from Rodgers Forge Elementary and Riderwood Elementary to fill up the new school (311 plus 54 equals 365). The new school is supposed to have a capacity of 451 students.
Why is a new school being built at a location where there are not enough extra students to fill it using the nearby districts? Because process was ignored.
A vocal group of angry parents insisted that a new school was the only solution to the overcrowding problem. The Baltimore County Public Schools’ Board bent to the public pressure and ignored their mandated procedures. Additions to existing schools, redistricting, or more appropriate sites for a new school geographically (like the Bykota site or the Towson YMCA site) were not adequately considered. Planning and process are missing in action as our tax dollars get spent on a very expensive project.
Furthermore, there is not a comprehensive study of how long the overcrowding situation will persist. The housing bubble had a lot to do with many houses in Rodgers Forge turning over from empty nesters happy to sell their houses for a handsome sum to parents of young children eager to buy a house in a good school district. To young families, Rodgers Forge has more affordable housing stock than other districts. This, coupled with the all-day kindergarten mandate, would explain why Rodgers Forge, in particular, got so crowded, but it doesn’t explain how the numbers work going forward. Broad demographics suggest that the school-age population has been declining. Ask the county for a study showing where the school population numbers are going in the greater-Towson area and you won’t find a study. Yet a whole new school is being built for a need that may not be long-term at a location that doesn’t match even the current need is.
I care about how my tax dollars are spent. If Baltimore’s only large newspaper isn’t capable of being a consistent government watchdog, I will not shed a tear for its continuing decline. Please start reporting on this issue with the same interest in neighbors’ concerns as you have shown to the neighbors of the Towson University Arena (which even in its original plan was further away from a house than the proposed Towson West Elementary will be) and to the neighbors of the Keswick multi-care center proposal for the Baltimore Country Club.