Parents from the New Carrollton area did something one night last week that is almost unheard of: They asked the Prince George's school board to close a school.
A group of about 50 parents attended a public hearing in Landover to voice support for a proposal to close either the Carrollton or Margaret Brent Elementary school. Their reason; The two New Carrollton schools are so badly underutilized that the county is no longer able to provide fulltime staff in areas such as music, physical education and art.
The parents argued that by closing one of the schools and sending all of the students to the other, the consolidated school could then have fulltime teachers in these subjects.
Prince George's allocates its staff on the basis of school population, and severely underutilized schools such as Margaret Brent and Carrollton get part-timers in some courses. Enrollments at both schools have dropped sharply in the last few years. At Carrollton, for example, only 272 of the 570 seats at the school, or less than 50 percent, were filled. The same holds true at Carrollton, where only 372 of 570 seats are filled.
Parents noted that the scheduling of part-time teachers in areas such as art and music has disrupted the educational programs at the two schools.
"What's happening is that a good solid education is having to take a back seat to scheduling," said Mary Ann Wallace, who spoke for the New Carrollton School Community Committee, which represented the two elementary school PTAs.
"All we want is an educationally sound, viable and stable school for our children," she added. "As a number of us testified last year, four elementary schools in New Carrollton with approximately 1,000 empty seats have become a liability rather than an asset to our children's education."
Wallace noted that the parents in the two Parent-Teacher Associations met last February and voted overwhelmingly to approve a proposal asking the school board to close one of the schools and consolidate the enrollments. Under such a plan, the school left open could then have full-time art, music, physical education, and kindergarten teachers.
The school board decided at a February meeting, however, to delay consideration of the proposal until it completed action on a citizens' advisory committee plan to modify busing.
After approving the busing plan early this month, the board decided to authorize a feasibility study on closing one of the schools. The study was to assess the effect such action would have on future school closing plans.
In a report released at last week's hearing, the school superintendent's staff concluded that consolidation of the two schools would not adversely effect future closings.
"The staff can discern no reason why the contemplated closing of either Carrollton or Margaret Brent would pose an obstacle to future closings in the area," the report said.
It was also noted that the school board could save nearly $150,000 a year by shutting down one of the schools.
The staff also cited Margaret Brent as the best candidate for closing because its location would better facilitate conversion of the building to another use. Brent is near the New Carrollton Library, City Hall and Annapolis Road. Carrollton, in contrast, is in the middle of a residential community, far from any major road.
Almost without exception, the 14 parents who spoke at last week's hearing supported the plan.
"By consolidating the schools, you will make a full-service school possible," said one parent. "Only a full-service school can provide the top-quality education that our children deserve. Right now, the children in both schools are being denied a full-service school."
The school board is scheduled to vote on the proposal to consolidate the two schools when it meets tonight.