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Published:February 24th, 2006 23:35 EST
Head of Baltimore school system says schools in region slated to close

Head of Baltimore school system says schools in region slated to close

By Laurie Salem

Editor Matthew Kent notes:

The information below was obtained in a copy of the letter sent home to parents and guardians Feb. 17. It was written by Bonnie S. Copeland, Chief Executive Officer of the BCPSS.

A letter sent by the Baltimore City Public Schools System went home to parents and guardians informing them of the plan to close some schools, officials said. BCPSS has been engaged in the Facility Solutions Process creating a master plan to upgrade their school facilities.

This process has included the input of thousands of parents and citizens, and is aimed at consolidating resources to improve schools, as well as closing our most decrepit schools, as required by the state of Maryland.

In order for BCPSS to receive further capital funding to make the many improvements that need to be made, they must comply with the mandate to reduce excess space issued by the State of Maryland, the State Department of Education and the General Assembly. Although they have no choice in the matter, reducing their overhead will allow them to invest more in their remaining schools.

Baltimore City has the oldest school facilities in the State. One third of its school buildings were built before 1950. Closing schools is the only way that they can receive the State funds needed to supplement the record $75 million new school construction initiative that was announced with the Mayor in December.

Facilities were built to house 126,000 students. The schools have not had that number of students since 1980. Current numbers indicate that the schools teach just over 85,000 students. Given this reduction in the student population and the State Mandate, the Board of School Commissioners voted last September to reduce BCPSS square by 15 percent over the next three years.

To ensure that the final plan reflected the input and participation of our community, officials informed eight planning area committees- one for each section of the city- made up of community leaders, parents, teachers, and school staff along with a Citywide Steering Committee. The Committee was chaired by the head of the Parent and Community Advisory Board, Michael Carter.

Community residents have toured buildings, analyzed data, completed surveys and partcipated in work sessions and public hearings. Though this has not been a perfect process, it has been community- driven. And it has illustrated how invested Baltimore's residents are in their schools.

On Feb. 14, staff presented the first draft of the Citywide Steering Committee's plan, which includes recommended actions--primarily building improvements--for all 171 buildings in the BCPSS. The plan introduces substantive recommendations in support of new construction, major renovations and buildings additions to provide the full complement of facilities and configurations the students deserve. This is the first phase of the three-year plan, which will re-direct teachers and resources from closing schools to the new schools that students will attend. BCPSS staff recommended closing schools for the next school year.

Over the next six weeks, the BCPSS will conduct a series of hearings to solicit even more input from parents and guardians. On March 28, the Board of School Commissioners will vote on the final recommendations presented by the Citywide Steering Committee, and vote on this year's school closings.