County seeks more pupils per school Officials want to go 20 percent above the state capacity

Would affect developers

Larger classes, more frequent redistricting the likely result

February 27, 1996|By ANDREA F. SIEGEL | ANDREA F. SIEGEL,SUN STAFF

County officials want to raise the number of children per school to 20 percent above the state capacity, a policy that could lead to more frequent redistricting and class sizes that top local goals.

The plan closely, mirrors recommendations made last year by a County Council-appointed committee that suggested raising the capacity ceilings to, in some cases, 120 percent.

School board members did not like the idea then, and they have not warmed to it.

"If your classes are 28 students now and we add another 20 percent to that, we are talking 34 -- another six students. You are penalizing the people who have lived in this county for the sake of some developer who wants to build houses in this county," said Joseph Foster, the school board president.

"When they start jamming extra kids into the class, they don't jam in extra teachers," said John Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

The county's proposal, which is not final, would take effect later this spring. No County Council action is required.

"In order to work, it's encouraging some redistricting," said Steven R. Cover, director of Planning and Code Enforcement.

The plan could result in shifting students among schools in a single feeder system as well as between feeder systems, depending on where school space exists, Mr. Cover said.

A feeder system is the elementary and middle schools leading to one high school.

The school board has been loath to shift children between feeder systems. However, it is considering relieving overcrowding at George Fox Middle School in the Northeast feeder system by moving some students to the Chesapeake feeder system for middle school, then returning them to Northeast High School. Redistricting unfailingly leads to among the most heated debates of any school year.

"I think there is a great misinterpretation of the quality of education and students' suffering if they have to change schools or if they go to a school outside their immediate community," Mr. Cover said. "If that were the case, every Army brat would be in the slammer. Kids adjust."

Tight budget times demand that the school system make better use of space. The 72,000-student school system has some 14,330 empty seats, Mr. Cover said.

School board members "weren't too thrilled" with the package of planned policy changes to address waivers that allow developers to build more houses when community schools have reached capacity, Mr. Cover said.

Another provision of the proposal includes allowing a developer to build based partly on whether space is available at schools up to a 30-minute bus ride away. Now, developers are restricted to neighborhood schools.

The county government and the school board have been at loggerheads about waivers and related matters despite some six months of negotiations. Last fall, County Executive John G. Gary said he wanted the school system to go along with changes his administration would propose.

"And if they don't go along with them, we're going to adopt them anyway," he said.

Carlesa Finney, a school board member, said the county government should make a better commitment to children, parents and the school system.

"You can say 120 percent or whatever with the numbers. An overcrowded school is an overcrowded school. And it is unpleasant," she said.

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