Many parents and educators lament school crowding. Few complain about campuses that are underused. But, in Prince George's County, new enrollment data show that many public schools are well below their official student capacity.

A Washington Post analysis of the school system's enrollment shows that 96 elementary, middle and high schools have fewer students than the state says they can handle. Fifty are less than 90 percent filled.

The enrollment data, a preliminary count of students in school Sept. 30, was posted this month on the school system's Web site.

The least-filled elementary school is Thomas Claggett in District Heights. With 236 students on a campus that could handle 480, it is running at 49 percent of capacity. Other elementary schools in similar situations: Benjamin D. Foulois (52 percent filled); Doswell E. Brooks (56 percent); Fort Washington Forest (56 percent); Morningside (57 percent); Dodge Park (57 percent); Francis Scott Key (61 percent); Overlook (65 percent); John Carroll (65 percent); Tayac (66 percent); Owens Road (66 percent); Berkshire (68 percent); and Matthew Henson (70 percent).

Except for Tayac and Fort Washington Forest, both in Fort Washington, all of those schools are inside the Beltway in communities such as Landover, Suitland, District Heights and Capitol Heights.

Among middle schools, the least-filled is Walker Mill in Capitol Heights. With 673 students, it is at 82 percent of capacity. Central High School in Capitol Heights has 1,030 students; it is 92 percent filled, less than any other county high school.

William Greene Jr., director of pupil accounting, said that some of the apparently underused elementary schools -- including Claggett -- have special education or pre-kindergarten programs that require more space. Others, he said, are expected to get more students soon. Greene said the school system is considering boundary shifts for some schools and plans to convert Foulois Elementary to a middle school. But he acknowledged that many inner-Beltway campuses are losing students.

School board Vice Chairman Howard W. Stone Jr. (Mitchellville) said crime may be depressing enrollment in some inner-Beltway areas. Birth rates, migration and development patterns and low test scores at many schools also may play a role.

Overall, public school enrollment in the county this fall slipped to 133,872, down from 136,095 the year before, according to preliminary totals. Previously, school officials had projected more than 139,000 students. Stone told The Post the school system may need to consider closing or consolidating some schools to save money. That may be unpopular in affected neighborhoods.

Where the Crowds Are

On the flip side, the analysis shows many of county's 199 public schools are well over capacity, with portable classrooms filling fields and parking lots next to permanent buildings.

Thomas S. Stone Elementary in Mount Rainier (inside the Beltway) has 917 students, and an official capacity of 540. That makes it the most crowded elementary school in the county, followed by Clinton Grove in Clinton, with 558 students on a 390-seat campus. "You work with what you have," said Stone Elementary Principal Ruth Hodges, who said that parents have resisted her efforts to winnow the student population through such means as address checks.

The most crowded middle school is Hyattsville, with 831 students on a campus designed for 612. The most crowded high school is Bowie, with 2,851 students and an official capacity of 1,934. School officials this year moved Bowie High's ninth-graders to the Belair annex (recently vacated by Bladensburg High after that school's campus was rebuilt) to relieve the pressure.

The second-most-crowded high school is Frederick Douglass in Upper Marlboro, with 1,807 students on a 1,283-seat campus.

Others high schools in similar straits include Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt, with 2,927 students on a 2,164-seat campus, and Northwestern in Hyattsville, with 2,545 students on a 2,053-seat campus.

Opening a new high school in Upper Marlboro and new elementary schools in west Hyattsville and Bowie next year will ease some, but not all, of the crowding.

A Grant for 'Buddies'

On Monday, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Eunice Kennedy Shriver dropped by High Point High School in Beltsville to publicize a $248,000 federal grant Hoyer helped secure for the Maryland operations of a program for disabled youths called Best Buddies. Shriver founded the Special Olympics movement in the 1960s; her son Anthony founded Best Buddies in 1989.

The program teams up intellectually disabled children with regular-education peers, for mentoring and, as the name implies, friendship. With 14 pairs of students in High Point and another 20 pairs at Northwestern High, the program helps integrate special education students into mainstream campus life.

School board Vice Chairman Howard W. Stone Jr. said that local crime may be affecting public school enrollment in some inner-Beltway districts.