Parents at Whitehall Elementary School in Bowie are upset about a proposed transfer of students to Kenilworth Elementary next school year. Roughly 140 students would be transferred and parents say they aren't confident the county has done its due diligence.
"[Prince George's County Public School system] is going with old numbers and inaccurate numbers and they really didn't consider the guidelines that they're supposed to go by," said Nancy Adamson, who spearheaded a failed appeal at the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings to get the transfer overturned. "Our concern is that there won't be room for us and that they'll keep us there for a year or two and then move again."
However, Adamson's take is refuted by PGCPS officials, who said all you have to do is take a visit to Whitehall and see that a transfer is necessary. "Whitehall is using temporaries as classrooms and special purpose rooms as classrooms," said Darrell Pressley, spokesman for Prince George's County Public Schools. "It was clear to us that something needed to be done to alleviate overcrowding."
Pressley said based on the utilization of other schools and overcrowding at Whitehall, the decision was made to redraw school boundaries.
The move to redraw the district is one that Prince George's Board of Education Chair Verjeana Jacobs says is long overdue. "In any event, it is important to note that the school district has been in the midst of a desperately needed system wide revision of boundaries," Jacobs said in an e-mail. "This recommended move by Superintendent Hite and his staff has been reviewed by an independent hearing examiner who has ruled that the process was in compliance with Board authority to reconstruct boundaries."
However, Jacobs says the process has not been a smooth one since PGCPS' vision for the use of certain schools is not shared by all the principals."We still struggle with the state rated capacity formulas and the ability to balance under-enrolled and overcrowded schools," Jacobs went on to say. "The issue here that has caused some confusion is the 'use' of a building by principals and the state rated capacity of the buildings."
Staying above the fray, Kenilworth Elementary Principal Chris Mills is making preparations for the 140 new pupils he'll see at his school. Mills said he'll be getting five new teachers, but no new administrators. Due to new budget cuts, elementary schools will now only receive a principal and assistant principal for schools that have a population of about 500 students – the number Kenilworth will now have.
A larger issue Mills said will be the different start times for students transferring from Whitehall. Kenilworth starts an hour and a half before Whitehall so there will be an adjustment to bus schedules. Mills says the county and the school are prepared for that and that's why there will be more slots for the Before and After School Extended Learning Program at Kenilworth.
"Normally I have 60 slots for Before and After care for 400 kids," Mills said. "It's about 15 slots for every hundred or so kids, and they added another staff member for next year, so they increased the number to 75. Enrollment for Before and After care opened yesterday and I didn't have people beating down my door to get in."
Adamson, however, isn't satisfied with any of this. She's says the county is jumping the gun by looking closer at the schools instead of simply looking at numbers.
"It would cost a lot less money to send someone out for a day to come look at the schools than it would to move us and crowd Kenilworth and then find out that they don't really have room," she said. "Then what are they going to do with Whitehall half-full? It doesn't make sense."