Development plan angers educators Gary wants to wait until schools are 120% full to halt building

Adequate facilities at issue

Board members warn effects would include redistricting, busing

March 07, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County educators will be left holding the bag because of a decision by county planners to allow schools to operate at 120 percent of capacity before halting new development, school board members complained yesterday.

During a tense, two-hour session, they told planners that allowing such crowding would force them to redistrict, splitting communities and busing children to new schools.

Several board members hooted when Steven Cover, director of planning and code enforcement, told them it was time for school officials to "join the John Gary administration."

One board member wondered aloud if the remark was part of Mr. Gary's re-election campaign.

"But there doesn't seem to be any partnership," board member Carlesa Finney complained. "I guess I just hear a very black and white situation that fits your side of the table."

Board members would be "the bad guys," she said.

The administration of County Executive John G. Gary wants to stop development when children from new subdivisions would fill an affected elementary school to 115 percent of capacity and a secondary school to 120 percent.

At the same time, developers whose subdivisions would bring schools to 100 percent of capacity would have to either build a new school or an addition to an existing one or pay the county fees to offset the cost of construction. Because some schools are full while neighboring ones have empty seats, planners would look not only to the assigned school but to schools within a half-hour bus drive for classroom space. About 14,330 places countywide are unused. But those are scattered among different schools and inconveniently located for the shifting of students, board member Maureen Carr York said.

The idea of sending children to school as far away as a half-hour bus ride would destroy the policy of community schools and detract from parental involvement and efforts to bring equity in school programs, she said.

Mr. Cover said that parts of the policy are negotiable -- he already dropped to the 115 percent figure for elementary school capacity -- and that he awaits the system's response on the half-hour bus ride.

The administration wants to enact the policy next month. It is based on a report by a County Council committee, which decided last year that waivers granted for new development did not contribute significantly to crowding at schools. The committee also said development was necessary to the economic health of the county.

Several community activists, especially in Cape St. Clair, said the report showed a bias of the committee members who are tied to real estate interests. Jane Sinclair, a conservationist who served on the committee, urged the board to look more favorably on the administration's proposal. Without it, there would continue to be no formal cutoff on granting waivers to a county ordinance that says roads and schools must be adequate for a development to proceed, she said.

In other business, the school board unanimously agreed to continue looking into year-round schooling. Accepting the proposal by a 40-member committee that studied year-round education, the board decided to allow individual schools to ask permission to change to a year-round calendar.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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