Baltimore Schools Enrollment Down, Schools to Close

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

With declining enrollment and building space for tens of thousands more students than they have enrolled, the Baltimore schools announced last December their restructuring plans to close several elementary, middle and high schools with others becoming combined K-8 schools.

The Baltimore schools held a series of community meetings, where they released a list of possible options they were considering. The options included schools to close, some to renovate, and where to build new ones. The options also were listed at their web site, where parents and community voted on which options they thought were best.

All options would close several Baltimore schools middle schools with consistently low test scores and high rates of violence. Some of these targeted schools are on the state’s “persistently dangerous” schools list, while others are being watched closely for inclusion to the list. The troubled Thurgood Marshall High School, site of a shooting in the 2004-2005 school year, also is included in all options. A new building will replace the current middle school, located at the same site, and be a K-8 school.

The Baltimore schools are dealing with deteriorating buildings, declining enrollment, and state demands that they operate the school system more efficiently. The Baltimore schools’ chief executive officer Bonnie S. Copeland stated that community committees, which used public input gathered earlier last fall, developed the options.

Copeland believed that much of the community shared her vision to expand the K-8 schools, which have been outperforming the traditional middle schools. Many parents, as well as community activist groups, were outraged and vehemently opposed several proposed options and school closings.

Many do not wish to see K-8 schools, unhappy with older children who set bad examples being mixed in with younger children. They believe the low test scores of several middle schools is more complex than just integrating the students with the elementary schools. Additionally, some high-performing schools could be closed, due to building conditions and capacity.

Many parents and activists believe it would be cheaper to renovate existing schools, rather than build new ones. David Lever, executive director of Maryland’s Public School Construction Program, backs this belief.

In March 2006, the Baltimore schools reacted to public pressure and released a substantially revised plan, stating that they took to heart the public’s concerns. The changes did little to appease the opponents of the plan, leaving the Baltimore schools caught between the state demanding a school closings plan and the parents and community activists.

After 85 public meetings on the topic and more than 10,000 participants, the Baltimore schools board voted at the end of March to close 16 Baltimore schools over the next two years. They also approved a 10-year, $2.7 billion plan to build 27 new Baltimore schools, moving thousands of children from middle schools to pre kindergarten through eighth grade.