New DCC enrollment projections discussed at meeting
The Blair PTSA discussed newly-released enrollment projections during its meeting with several MCPS officials last evening in the Media Center. Despite the optimism expressed through the figures, many PTSA members were disappointed with the lack of solutions offered and still feel that the overcrowding problem will persist for several years to follow.
The presentation given by guest speaker Bruce Crispell from the MCPS Department of Planning and Capital Budgeting showed an eight student enrollment increase at Blair from the previous year. Crispell noted that the current enrollment at Blair is 44 students short of the projected enrollment of 3,350 students. He also commented that the final enrollment numbers will be smaller than the current estimates. "It will get better," said Crispell, offering the reopening of Northwood as the sole solution. The report also projected an enrollment of only 2,804 students at Blair by the 2008-2009 school year.
According to Crispell, in the coming year, there will be 750 students in the freshmen class. This number includes 500 students entering from Takoma, Eastern and Silver Spring International Middle Schools along with 100 slots for Magnet students, 50 slots for CAP students and an additional 100 slots for current freshmen who might be held back. Although the current eighth grade class does fit into the 750-student figure, several PTSA members cited that the current seventh grade class enrollment is closer to 600 students, which will cause the total freshmen class figure to rise by 100 students. The 50 CAP slots are also 25 short of the 75 freshmen admitted annually to CAP.
In an email on the PTSA list-serv, Blair Cluster Representative Ray Scannell pointed out that the Blair community is not embracing the school system's projections easily because of what they feel is a spotty track record. A Sept. 8, 1998 article in The Washington Post stated that the newly-opened Blair, then one week into its first year at the renovated building, was already showing signs of strain with an incoming population of 2,700 students (about 100 students under the 2,800 building capacity) and class sizes of 32 students. "The school system says that Blair High's official enrollment figure will be lower and that the school will not exceed capacity for another three years," reported the Post article. However, Blair was overpopulated the very next year, according to old Blair enrollment figures, and has remained overcapacity ever since.
According to an email from Diane Kohn on the PTSA list-serv posted immediately after last night's meeting, Blair has been overcapacity since 1990, except for the first year the new building opened. "That's 15 years without a solution," Kohn wrote. "Maybe that's why the urgency doesn't register for MCPS officials. This is not a new concern on our part."
Community Superintendent Steve Bedford noted that the newly-opened Northwood will continue to relieve some students from Blair in the years to come. "We do have approximately 400 new seats opening up each year," said Bedford. "If we don't populate Northwood with 400 students per year, then we have a problem."
This problem had already surfaced this year, however, according to Scannell: Blair was promised a decrease of 200 students in the incoming class with Northwood's reopening; according to last night's presentation, Blair received an increase in student population instead.
PTSA Co-President Fran Rothstein thinks that the projections made by MCPS do not adequately represent the current overcrowding situation at Blair. For instance, with regard to residential development, she believes they fail to recognize that more than one family may occupy a home or development. "If their numbers were accurate, then we would not be in this situation," said Rothstein.
Crispell, however, disagrees with Rothstein and noted that the new housing developments being constructed throughout Montgomery County will have little effect on high school enrollment. "We sample recently completed developments," said Crispell. "Most of the yield for new housing is at the elementary level."
In response to a question about Northwood possibly accepting more than 400 students a year to reduce Blair's population, Bedford announced there was no plan to adjust the enrollment schedule in order to prevent Northwood becoming overcrowded. At the same time, he acknowledged that he is fully aware of Blair's overcrowding problems and is responding to the situation as best he can. "If you want to send me 50 letters you can do that," said Bedford. "I don't need to have 50 letters to get my attention." He also told the PTSA that Blair is approaching 100 percent capacity rather than becoming more overcrowded. "The best information we have now shows Blair settling down to 100 percent capacity," said Bedford.
Regardless of where Blair may be headed, the bottom line is that Blair remains 500 students overcapacity, said Beth Py-Lieberman, a frustrated parent who attended the meeting. She was "astonished to hear" that MCPS is giving no additional support for Blair's overload because of budget problems, she wrote in an email. "It's not reasonable to say that they can't offer extra support because it isn't in the budget. My question was, and remains today, if they've known about this population bulge for years (and Crispell did correctly predict it), why haven't they planned for it and amended the budget to at least accommodate the overload of students?" She is frustrated by what she views as a lack of support from MCPS from the beginning. "If those officials really are concerned about the students at Blair, as they say they are, why did they allow for this situation to develop?"
Regardless of MCPS' testimony, Rothstein still believes that the problem needs to be fixed immediately rather than over several years. "It shows a tremendous disrespect to our families and students," commented Rothstein. "No student should have to go to a school this big and overcrowded."
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