Waivers and Smoke Screens

July 12, 1995

It is interesting how the Anne Arundel County Board of Education has made County Executive John G. Gary look like the bad guy for signing off on new development in Crofton, where Arundel High supposedly will have 1,000 students too many by the year 2000. Board members act as if the county sprung this on them from out of the blue. But these developers were seeking waivers from the county's adequate facilities regulations, which forbid building in areas with overcrowded schools, long before Mr. Gary was elected. Was the school board on Pluto while this was going on?

Of course not. School officials knew about the development plans. They even told the county what size lot the developer should provide for a new elementary school. If they were worried about development exacerbating crowding at Arundel High, they could have protested during the waiver process. They never said a thing. Now they're blaming the county and wringing their hands about what they're going to do with all these kids.

The waivers aren't the real problem. Even without the development, which adds only 135 kids, Arundel High will be over its limit by 1,000 students. Even if no more houses are built, the schools must figure where to put the students. That's true not just in West County, but all over.

We can't build a new school every time an old one becomes crowded; the money isn't there. That leaves little choice but to use as many of the county's 13,600 empty classroom seats as possible through redistricting. Shifting students, especially older ones, between neighboring areas is an option school leaders can't ignore. Renovating and expanding existing schools -- the route Gov. Parris Glendening prefers to building anew -- might help make parents less adverse to redistricting. Specialized magnet programs are another way of filling underutilized schools with a carrot approach rather than a stick.

In West County, the system is caught between building a new $30 million high school or angering parents by sending some students a few extra miles down the road to South River High, where 1,000 seats are empty. School officials would be facing that dilemma even had the county denied the waivers. As it is, the waivers are a convenient smokescreen for the fact that the school system hasn't a plan for fixing this imbalance.

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