Weast planning to cut number of portables in half

Superintendent calls on the state to provide more money for construction

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

County school Superintendent Jerry D. Weast would like to halve the number of portable classrooms the school system uses, and he sees a slowdown in enrollment in the coming years as an opportunity to do it.

This year, 17,000 of the school system’s nearly 140,000 students are attending classes in 690 portables.

On Tuesday, Weast called on the state to provide the money to help do it, noting that the county has promised hundreds of millions of dollars for school renovations and modernizations in the proposed six-year construction plan.

‘‘And the state’s giving us $21 million?” Weast said incredulously. ‘‘... It’s not like we’re not eligible for $125 million from the state.”

Weast’s comments came during Tuesday’s school board meeting and after parents from Bells Mill Elementary School in Potomac asked for the school system to replace all eight of the school’s portables immediately. Students have been moved out of two portables because they contain mold.

School planners see a leveling off of enrollment as a chance to reduce the number of portables.

‘‘I’d like to get rid of half of them in the next six years,” Weast said.

He showed a map of where the county’s portable classrooms are, according to County Council districts.

‘‘Now, I went through this list and looked at the portables that were more than 11 years old,” Weast said. ‘‘Heat, cold, mold. We’ve got to get rid of these.”

*Ninety-one of the 690 portables are in the council’s District 1, which includes Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Of those, 20 are at least 11 years old.

*Council District 4, which includes the east county and parts of Rockville, has the most portables of any district, with 174. Nineteen of those are at least 11 years old.

*Council District 2, which covers the upcounty and Olney, has 168 portables, 32 of which are at least 11 years old.

Overall, 122 schools have portable classrooms, 140 of which are 11 years old or older.

On Monday, Weast said that the county executive’s recommendation to complete the rollout of all-day kindergarten in fiscal 2007, one year earlier than planned, will mean the need for about 16 more portables.

‘‘We’re going to have to use temporary classrooms for a while as we try to lower class size,” he said.

Summer, eveningschool fees increase

On Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved a 5 percent increase in fees for summer and evening school for the 2006-2007 school year.

The hike means that costs for summer school courses will increase $15. The cost of the elementary summer school program, which is two courses over four weeks, will increase from $285 to $300. Tuition for high school summer courses will increase from $250 to $265 in core classes and from $260 to $275 in non-core classes. Special education and English language summer school classes will increase by $5 to $140.

Evening high school fees and tuition will increase by $5 across the board. Full tuition will increase to $45 for students under 21 and $110 for students older than 21.

Early entrance, community policies approved

Also Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a policy on early entrance to prekindergarten, kindergarten and first grade.

The policy’s passage brings the school system into compliance with state regulations that take effect during the 2006-2007 school year.

According to state regulations, children applying for prekindergarten must turn 4 by Sept. 1, which will be the cutoff date for those applying to kindergarten to turn 5 years old and for those applying to first grade to turn 6 years old.

Families seeking early entrance must meet income eligibility requirements, and students must show academic, social and emotional readiness for school.

The policy also allows families whose children turn 4 six weeks before the Sept. 1 cutoff to petition for early entrance. It calls on the superintendent to develop a screening process for early entrance.

The board also tentatively approved a policy that sets the framework for community involvement with the board, school system offices and schools, through information campaigns, volunteer opportunities, solicitation of public comments, advisory committees and other means.

The board is seeking public comments on the proposed policy.

To read the policies go to www.mcps.k12.md.us⁄departments⁄policy.