State rules blamed for school crowding

June 20, 1995|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

Changes in curriculum and state-mandated formulas for calculating classroom sizes have as much to do with the crowding in Anne Arundel schools as new home construction, a new report shows.

Specifically, the report concludes that a controversial program that allows developers to build near already crowded schools is more of a public scapegoat than a menace.

Arthur D. Ebersberger, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee to Study Waivers of Adequacy of School Facilities Requirements, said waivers have added fewer than 670 students to the public school population of 67,093.

"The granting of waivers has not caused the present capacity problem that certain schools are experiencing," said Mr. Ebersberger, adding that he believed it has exacerbated an already bad situation.

The report, prepared over the past year by 15 citizens appointed by the council, cites poor communication between a semi-autonomous public school system and government officials as well as changes in curriculum and class-size formulas.

The recent expansion of five media centers, the addition of 21 computer labs and 14 pre-kindergarten programs have consumed 1,000 seats previously reserved for other classes, the report shows.

Also, the state changed the formula it uses to calculate how many students a class should contain in 1994, instantly reducing the capacity of the county's 117 schools by 4,522 seats, the study says.

That amounts to the loss of 220 classrooms.

At the same time, the study says the public schools have nearly 13,800 empty seats in schools operating under capacity.

The study recommends:

* The county keep but modify its waiver process. The county should not grant waivers if elementary schools are operating at greater than 115 percent capacity or middle and high schools are at levels greater than 120 percent.

* The school board consult county planners and budget analysts when curriculum changes or state mandates affect school capacity.

* An outside consultant should be hired to determine how the public schools are currently using classroom space. An outside consultant also should be retained to develop a 10-year plan to use existing space and new schools to meet expanding enrollments. The county expects to have 78,000 students by 2000.

* School districts should be revised more frequently to keep up with shifting enrollments. Redistricting should occur no less than every five years.

* Officials should notify the public through the Office of Community Services whenever a developer requests a waiver, similar to the practice used for zoning changes.

County Council President Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican, said Mr. Ebersberger's committee will hold sessions about the report for the public. She also said the council will discuss it in public work sessions.

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