More than a dozen parents and several teachers of children who attend New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver Spring begged the Montgomery County Board of Education last night not to delay a much-needed renovation of their 30-year-old school buiding.
"It's a crime to neglect the less fortunate when you spend millions on the more affluent," said Steven Craft, a parent. "We feel this is racism in its most obvious form."
The school has a minority enrollment of 91 percent, the highest in Montgomery County, and the building is severely overcrowded and has a leaking roof, according to teachers.
About 300 persons attended the spirited public hearing at Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park, and the crowd burst into applause after the New Hampshire Estates parents made their pitch to the board.
One teacher told the board that the situation is so bad that teachers must use a phone inside a closet to call parents and that the teachers' lounge is infested with roaches.
Several parents said they feared the board would delay renovating their school pending discussion of plans to reduce minority enrollment at New Hampshire Estates by pairing it with nearby Oakview Elementary School, which has a minority enrollment of 42 percent.
Board President Robert Shoenberg assured them that the school will be renovated next year, according to schedule. "It is our intention to move that way," Shoenberg said. "We expect to have your new buildings when we said we'd have them."
Board member Sharon DiFonzo said "everyone sitting at this table is as interested in having that building there as you are eager to have it put there."
Several civic leaders from the Oakview community told the board that although they do not oppose renovating New Hampshire Estates, they do not favor pairing the two schools.
The board will take final action on the proposals on Monday.
School officials said that the minority enrollment at New Hampshire Estates could be reduced to about 70 percent if the proposal to pair the two schools is adopted.
The pairing plan would assign pupils in kindergarten through grade three to New Hampshire Estates, while Oakview would have grades four through six.
It is part of an overall effort by school officials to improve schools in the Blair Cluster, a group of schools in east Silver Spring and Takoma Park, and reduce their minority enrollments.
Minority enrollments at all of the elementary schools in the Blair cluster average 60 percent, compared with the countywide average of 27 percent.
The school board has a policy of reviewing enrollment at any school where minority enrollment exceeds the countywide average by 20 percentage points.
A literary arts magnet program would be offered at both schools in an effort to attract white students. Under the plan, a French language "immersion" program would remain at Oakview, but a similar Spanish language program would be moved to Rolling Terrace Elementary.
School Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody has recommended that the school board spend $12.5 million to add 20 classrooms at New Hampshire Estates, 13 classrooms at Oakview and 21 classrooms at Rolling Terrace. But the County Council has allotted only $8.7 million to renovate the Blair cluster schools, raising concerns over where the additional money would come from.