While most Montgomery County communities grapple with declining enrollments and school closures, the upper part of the county faces the opposite problem.
"In our area we have a growing population and overcrowding of the schools," said Gaithersburg parent Ellie Struck. "Sometimes you feel that the kids are packed in like sardines."
Some of the county's fastest growing sections are in the school system's Area 5, the north-northwestern half of the county. Area 5 is as large as all four of Montgomery's other school areas together and includes Gaithersburg, Germantown, Poolsville, Damascus and Laytonsville.
"Right now the schools are crowded, and they're becoming more crowded," said educational facilities planner John Vaszko. "Ridgeview Junior High has 1,306 students and can hold 1,2000. They are 106 ove and going up, and are using four portable classrooms."
Last week a committee of area teachers, parents and administrators submitted a report to the board of education that included three major recommendations to relieve Area 5's crowding. The proposals are that a new junior high school be opened in September 1981, a senior high school and that the area convert to the middle school grade structure - schools housing kindergarten through fifth grade, sixth through eigth and ninth through 12th.
The committee chose Neelsville, on Rte. 355 north of Gaithersburg, as the best site for a 1,050-seat junior high. The four-year senior high should be nearby, but not in Montgomery Village, according to the report. Cost for construction of these two schools is estimated at $16 million.
"Children sometimes have difficulty getting the programs they want because of lack of space," said Struck, who is chairwoman of the committee. "Some schools start serving lunch at 10:20 in the morning with up to five or six lunch periods because the cafeteria is just not large enough to accommodate all the students."
"We have music teachers pushing pianos around the halls because they don't have a place to set up a music room the way they can in other schools," added committee member Tim O'Shea. "Looking back at the large enrollments in grades six, five and four, it's like a wave moving through the area schools.
"It will crest in the next few years at the secondary schools, and it's a problem that you can't resolve when it hits you. You've got to start beforehand," he said.
The report dismissed busing students to downcounty schools as too expensive and too difficult in congested conditions on I-270 and Rte. 355.
Requesting construction funds, however, is not going to be easy in a county where tax cuts are a major election issue. If the TRIM proposal is adopted, the school system may face a $25 million tax cut. Question E on the Nov. 7 general election ballot, the TRIM proposal, would reduce the county's general property tax rate from $2.60 per $100 of assessed value to $2.25.
"Sure, we know it's bad time, but don't tell us we can't have for our tax dollards what other county students have, Struck said. "It's going to mean a lot of educating of the rest of the county as to our needs."
"To buil or not to build" is a question that troubles school planner Vaszko, who said that closing schools and building them at the same time poses some complex problems.
"A majority of the people in the county live in the areas where they're closing schools, and they say "How can you talk about problems up there when I'm talking about them closing my school?"
Also, the trend appears be toward smaller enrollments in about six years, have about 1,200 students while the second and fifth grade has 1,500 each, and the third and fourth grades have 1,600 each. But the kindergarten enrollment is only 1,200. While additional children may come into the area, he predicts an enrollment drop in the future.
"I'm afraid to build, but I'm afraid not to build," said Vaszko, noting that area schools may be severely overcrowded for several years. "I really think we should build a junior college hihg - it will going uphill for four or five years.
"You're talking about some children's entire junior and senior high education. I don't know what's better - to have room for their growing years or to have them suffer for the next generation."
The Board of Education considered the committee report at their Monday meeting, but took no action on the recommendations.