- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — The city’s school board voted Monday to reduce its operating space by 2.7 million square feet to deal with falling enrollment, deteriorating buildings and state demands to operate more efficiently.

The move will result in school closings over the next three years.

Eight community groups created by the school system have been given the task of identifying schools that will be closed. The board expects to vote on the groups’ proposals by April.

School officials said the closings would help because the state has been reluctant to fund school renovations and construction while the system is operating inefficiently.

“This isn’t a doom-and-gloom story,” said Eric Letsinger, the school system’s chief operating officer. “This is about getting better facilities for our kids.”

The school system operates 171 schools, with 18 million square feet of space — enough for 126,000 students. But this year’s enrollment is 86,300, and it is expected to continue to fall.

Even with the 2.7-million-square-foot cut approved by the board, the system will still have 3 million square feet of excess space.

State officials have asked the school system to reduce its capacity by 4 percent a year for three years.

Monday night’s decision will reduce capacity more than that, but officials said they still will have enough space for more than 100,000 students.

Schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland said no employees will lose their jobs as a result of the school closings. She said the operations of schools left open will improve because custodians, school police, painters and other workers won’t be spread as thin.

“It’s an opportunity to focus our resources on fewer square feet so we’re able to better serve the areas that remain,” she said.

Michael Carter, president of the school system’s Parent and Community Advisory Board, said it is important that parents show up at upcoming community forums to express their opinions about what they want their children’s schools to look like.

He said the plan the school system is devising will guide “how facilities will look for the next 50 years. … It’s important to get parents out so we’ll have a product that’s representative.”

The system has spent $1 million to hire an Ohio consulting firm, DeJong & Associates, to lead the community through the planning.

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