After days of frustration and struggle over how to solve the school overcrowding problem, the Baltimore County Council voted last night to extend for three years a moratorium on residential construction around elementary schools that are 20 percent over capacity.
The council faced the option of making the moratorium permanent, as proposed in legislation by County Executive Roger B. Hayden, or extending the 18-month temporary ban already in force.
In their unanimous vote to extend, however, the council members also made it clear that they expect solutions to the nagging overcrowding problem other than a building moratorium to be developed.
The council adopted an amendment to the Hayden administration bill that allows the moratorium to continue through June 30, 1995.
The panel also passed another amendment that forces the council, the administration and the school board to develop a plan for each school identified as being 20 percent or more over capacity.
Each plan would take into consideration, among other things, possible new school construction, school redistricting and the use of relocatable classrooms as ways to deal with a particular school's overcrowding. The plan would be implemented within two years of its adoption.
"The administration and the Board of Education as well as we, the council, should have their feet held to the fire in terms of coming up with a plan to answer the problem of school overcrowding, and placing a time limit on that is the only way to accomplish that," said Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th.
Council Chairman William A. Howard IV, R-6th, said that coming up with such plans school by school is something that should have been done during the past 18 months of the interim moratorium.
Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, D-5th, voted for the amended bill, but he said he would rather have seen the moratorium become permanent.
"This moratorium is a very difficult issue to balance, and how we deal with it is going to be our most important challenge over the next three years," said Councilman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, D-3rd.
Council members, the administration and school officials agreed that the only real solution would be to build new schools. But the funds are not there for such a program. An consultant reported that it would take $250 million to build enough schools to ease overcrowding by 2000. The county has about $20 million annually in its capital budget for school construction, but that includes such things as roof repairs.