The Prince George's County school board last week scheduled hearings on proposals to close two elementary schools, and gingerly asked its administrative staff to come up with the system's first comprehensive study of the impact that declining enrollment is likely to have on the county schools during the next five years.
While the board shied away from calling the study school-closing plan, the staff will be forced to deal with the question of which schools to shut down as the student population drops to an estimated 96,000 by 1985. The report is due in November.
Enrollment has fallen from 160,000 in 1970 to 122,000 this year.
Administrative staff calculate that even if 20 elementary schools were closed by 1985, about 24,000 empty seats would remain in the elementary schools, compared with 28,000 empty seats today.
The staff submitted to the board tentative proposals and estimates of the savings they would bring, which included:
Close the Ritchie Elementary School, on Ritchie Road in Forrestville, and disperse its 375 pupils to neighboring Arrowhead, North Forrestville and Oakcrest elementary schools. Ritchie would be connected to the adjoining Wheatly Special Education Center and plans to construct an addition to Wheatly would be canceled. Saving: $1.5 million.
Close Tanglewood Elementary School, Woodyard Road, Clinton, and divide its 283 pupils between nearby Melwood and F.T. Evans elementary schools. Tanglewood would be renovated for use as a special education center, and plans for construction of the planned Brandywine Special Education Center would be canceled. Saving: $2.6 million.
Renovate the closed Margaret Brent elementary school and cancel present plans to expand and renovate the nearby Princess Garden Special Education Center. Saving: $800,000.
Re-design one of 11 junior high schools scheduled to close over the next five years for use in place of a planned renovation of the Croom Vocational Center, 15100 Mount Calvert Rd., Upper Marlboro. Saving: $2.4 million.
The total savings of $7.3 million would come from consolidating the two under-enrolled elementary schools with neighboring schools and utilizing closed facilities, two of seven general criteria which the staff will incorporate in the five-year facilities plan.
Other criteria will include dispersing the effects of closings county-wide, closing schools with small enrollments and those in unsound or energy inefficient buildings in need of repair, and preserving newer buildings and those on large sites.
Racial balance would be a secondary consideration in the planning, according to Ed Felegy, assistant superintendent for administration. He said, however, efforts would be made to maintain a racial balance that reflects the make-up of the school system as a whole.
Board member Al Golato stressed that the plan should be called "The Comprehensive Five-Year Plan for School Facilities," with no mention of the touchy subject of school closings.
"It's merely the beginning, the first concrete step," said Golato. "They (the staff) may go anywhere (with the plan)."
"Down the road is (the fact) that we have got to get rid of some of these buildings, but this is a first step," said board chairman Jo Ann Bell.
Board member Chuch Saunders backed the proposed changes in the plan for the Brandywine center and the Croom school, both in his district, saying, "It is now the time to make the hard decisions."
School officials have been wrestling with the problem of half-empty classrooms since 1977. They closed elememtary schools in 1976 and 11 in 1978. c
The system is also in the first year of a five-year plan under which the ninth graders in 11 junior high schools will be moved into senior highs and most of the junior highs will be converted into "middle schools" for seventh and eighth graders.
The closings in 1976 and 1978 were ordered after recommendations were made by "task forces" of teachers, school administrators, parents and other community representatives.
The new five-year plan will not call for such direct participation in the decision- making, but planned closings will be the subject of public hearings and other community forums such as the "informational sessions" which will accompany the hearings on Ritchie and Tanglewood schools.
According to a school official, there is a feeling among school board members that while community input is necessary, the use of task forces was like "throwing up our hands and saying to the community, 'We need help.'"
The process of planning the shrinkage of the country's 13th larrgest school system has moved slowly because of the certain controversy to come before it is all over.
"I don't think anybody's looking forward to a group of angry parents marching on them," said Jon Peterson, director of pupil accounting.
An information session on the proposed closing of Tanglewood is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today at the school. The public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at Frederick Sasser Junior High, 14201 School Ln., Upper Marlboro.
The information session and hearing for the Ritchie plan are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Oct 13 at the school and Oct. 20 at the Central Area Administration Office, 6501 Lowland Dr., Landover, respectively.