TOWSON, Md. - In most cases, the colors blue and red would denote a partisan divide. However, that was not the case at a community meeting for Baltimore County Public Schools Tuesday.
Parents from Loch Raven Village and the Idlewylde /Loch Hill neighborhoods wore red and blue t-shirts, respectively, to demonstrate their solidarity to public schools Superintendent Dallas Dance and in an ongoing conversation about scenarios to alleviate overcrowding.
“Our main focus right now is to let them know that we are very seriously looking at this and to try to get options that we think are beneficial on the table,” said Duncan Keir, a spokesman for the Idlewylde/Loch Hill United group.
The Baltimore County Board of Education has a clear-cut task in front of it: Find 500 seats to alleviate long-term overcrowding issues in the Towson area. The construction of a new 700-seat elementary school in Mays Chapel helped ease the burden along the York Road corridor, but the need for 500 seats remains the priority.
“Any proposal you put forward is going to have pros and cons,” Dance said.
The proposal that has risen to the forefront of conversation includes renovating and expanding the old Loch Raven Elementary School, which closed as a school in 1982 and currently functions as a rec center. The building itself also retains historical status in Baltimore County. The same proposal would move the current Halstead Academy population to Loch Raven Elementary School, which would give the county the opportunity to build another county magnet school at the current Halstead building.
The second proposal would be to build additions at Cromwell Valley Magnet.
“If it takes $21 million to renovate [Loch Raven Elementary], and $24 million to build a new school—that’s a conservation that we have to have,” Dance said. “We’re going to have to open up Loch Raven Elementary School. If we don’t factor in Halstead or Cromwell, you’re pulling in 500 seats for that school from somewhere. In my charge to disrupt as few students and families as possible, that’s what brought Halstead into the equation.”
A redistricting committee will begin soliciting input for redrawing lines once a decision is made. A meeting will be announced likely next week for the end of October to present Dance’s decision.
Parents at the meeting made clear that they want to be part of the process. Some, like Keir, questioned the school’s systems transparency.
“I find the meetings helpful in the sense that it gives us a chance to have a presence,” Keir said. “It gives Dr. Dance and the Board a chance to see that we’re consolidated and that we have a base of support and they’re we’re taking this issue very seriously.
“But, I don’t believe that we’re getting any substantive information from them,” he continued. “That’s not necessarily unexpected. I’m not expecting direct and nuanced answers. But I feel that the whole process has been very opaque. While they’re preaching transparency I don’t think we’re necessarily seeing it.”
Keir went on to say that they were told of 100 possible sites and methods to alleviate overcrowding back in late May.
“That list has never been published,” he said. At a meeting on June 12, the list had been culled down to 10 possible locations, according to the BCPS website.
“Many of us purchased our homes in those communities specifically for the Stoneleigh school district,” Keir said. “Others of us, older residents have older kids, have had excellent experiences sending our kids through the school system.
The concern is that severe overcrowding on the west side of Towson is being met with east side solutions that could divide their neighborhood, which sits on the edge of the existing boundary.
“Specifically, if you’re looking at Halstead Academy, you’ve got a huge dichotomy between the historical excellent performance of Stoneleigh and the historical poor performance of Halstead Academy,” Keir said. “This is one of the things that was originally driving our mobilization, looking at this disparity.”
Keir and members of the Loch Hill group attended a Loch Raven Village (red shirts) meeting last week. “They hadn’t even heard about this,” Keir said, furthering his own skepticism toward the schools system’s transparency.
Karen Williams, a representative of Loch Raven Village United, said her group “overwhelmingly opposed” the idea of reopening Loch Ravel Elementary School. Currently, parents in the Loch Raven Village neighborhood send their children to Pleasant Plains Elementary, which is a Title 1 school.
Parents spoke of their fondness for the “best kept secret” in Towson, although the perception of opening Loch Raven Elementary School and filling it will students from Halstead Academy, another Title 1 school would be detrimental to property values.
The parents from Loch Raven also questioned the environmental impact opening an historical structure would have, citing specifically a believed asbestos remediation. They said they were also opposing the school