More county money needed for growing enrollment, board says

March 10, 1995|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

The Howard County school board faced what is becoming a familiar dilemma last night and again came to the conclusion that the only remedy for an exploding student enrollment is more money from county government.

While discussing a report on the effects of the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, frustrated board members repeated the same message over and over -- more schools are a necessity, not a luxury, if the system wants to maintain its high quality.

"We're going to have 1,800 new bodies that we've got to put someplace next year," said board member Stephen Bounds. "We've got to build more schools. It's not an if. It's a must."

School system enrollment is expected to increase by more than 11,000 students in the next 10 years, to 48,900 by 2005.

Although the board has discussed the possibility that the number of new students could be limited if the county curtailed development, it was told last night that a higher-than-predicted birth rate, and not new homes, is the driving force behind the growing enrollment.

The school system has calculated that 60 percent of new students come from resident births, while only 40 percent are from new development, said Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin.

"It's the people who are already here . . . who are generating the majority of the growth," said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county planning director.

And the elimination of new development would hurt the school system because new homes are the only source of growth in the county's tax assessment base, said Alton J. Scavo, a Rouse Co. senior vice president and general manager of Columbia.

Without the additional revenue provided each year through the construction of new homes, the school system's budget couldn't grow, either, he said.

"Although [new development] is an easy target, it's a target I don't think is a bull's eye, and it could have the reverse impact on the school construction budget in the short-term and perhaps the long-term," Mr. Scavo said.

But board member Sandra French said she believes that the county must follow through on its 1992 commitment to build enough schools when it set a goal of permitting construction of 2,500 new homes a year.

"Everyone said there would be full funding of the capital budget. Now we're being told that they can't stand behind that, and that's what scares me," Ms. French said. "The commitment -- I don't know if it's gone, but I don't hear it."

Although board members appeared to favor the idea of raising taxes to pay for new and existing schools, the county executive and the County Council have already ruled that out for next year.

Also last night, the board:

* Appeared to be moving closer to setting a new policy to cover the use of county schools by community groups.

The issue has gained significance recently because the school system is being asked to build elementary schools with larger gyms and cafeterias to accommodate recreation and parks programs. School officials have feared that recreation and parks might try to take over the scheduling of events in schools, giving their activities priority over community programs.

The revised policy being considered sets out a complex system of scheduling priorities for all times of the day during both the school year and the summer. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal on March 23.

* Approved a revised version of its capital budget for fiscal year 1996.

The new $51.3 million budget was changed to include, among other things, an additional $2.3 million to pay for a new auditorium for the rebuilt Wilde Lake High School.

* Heard a report on the proposed comprehensive examination of the county's middle schools.

The evaluation, which is expected to be completed by May 1996, will be conducted by a review committee of county residents and workers, school staff and outside consultants.

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