'Crisis' looms over school crowding Balto. Co. facing rising enrollment in high schools

Task force studying issue

Developers opposed to a moratorium on home construction


Baltimore County's search for a way to deal with crowded classrooms could lead to a far-reaching reform -- a law governing development around all county schools.

Local officials say such a law would not be a full moratorium on development -- like a 6-year-old county law that bans new homes around crowded elementary schools.

Details are unclear. A committee studying remedies for school crowding agreed this week to allow council auditor Brian J. Rowe to draft the proposed new facilities law.

But developers and business leaders are leery of the proposal triggered by an impending "crisis" in high school enrollments. Limiting homebuilding around a crowded high school, for example, would affect large areas, they say.

"That is unacceptable. You cannot punish an industry. That's not a solution," says Stuart J. Greenebaum, a developer and member of a task force looking for answers to school crowding.

Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties have full-fledged adequate facilities laws, which regulate new home construction based on sewer, water, road and school capacity.

Baltimore County rejected the idea in 1979, however, when it was proposed as part of a growth management plan. Instead, a more limited law covering water, sewers and roads was adopted.

In 1990, county officials enacted a "temporary" law prohibiting development around elementary schools that are more than 20 percent over capacity. It is due to expire in October -- leading the county to search for new ideas.

Requiring developers to pay fees for each new house, using developers to build schools and splitting day shifts at crowded high schools are among the ideas being discussed by the County Council-appointed task force, which met Tuesday night.

"I am interested in pursuing the concept [of a new, expanded law] as a planning tool," council chairman Kevin Kamenetz said. The 2nd District Democrat wants county officials, educators and developers to work together to solve the crowding problem; in 2005, high school enrollment will exceed capacity by 4,400 students.

Private developers say they can build four new schools for the price of three, Kamenetz said. The task force should work like a think tank, rather than vote on proposals, he added.

Schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, a task force member, said crowded high schools could have two shifts, allowing some students to arrive later each day. He said the school board hasn't discussed that option, though.

Rowe, the council auditor, requested that he be allowed to draft the facilities law. "We see a crisis in the high school arena. We don't see enough being done in high schools," said Rowe, who heads the seven-member group.

His aim, he said, is to craft a bill broad enough to be acceptable to developers and community activists.

"It is to aid development, not restrict it," Rowe said. The proposed law could include waivers for developers or other exemptions that might, for example, allow builders to donate land for school sites in trade for permission to build.

Richard W. McQuaid, president of the North County Coalition, a group of 14 rural community associations, applauded the move. "They're going in the right direction," he said, adding that crowded schools are a major reason people leave the county.

But spokesmen for the Chamber of Commerce and the homebuilders association argue that home construction no longer is the reason for school crowding, and that any moratorium hurts business and economic development.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III agrees. Although he is not a task force member, he says that most school crowding occurs in older neighborhoods where young people are replacing older residents.

"If you tie high schools to adequate facilities, you could shut the whole county down," he said, noting that high school districts are much larger than elementary school districts. Even the existing moratorium is not needed, he said, because more money is being spent on new schools and additions.

The task force also discussed the findings of a consultant, Tischler and Associates of Bethesda, which updated a 1991 report on school crowding and found conditions shifting.

Crowding in elementary schools will begin to vanish in a few years, but high schools will become the next problem area, the report says.

Based on the $33 million being spent to add 2,000 new high school seats through additions at Dulaney, Perry Hall, Pikesville and Franklin, the county would need another $73 million to meet enrollments by the year 2005.

To forestall severe high school crowding, the county should begin shifting money from elementary to high school projects, the report says. It also should consider using available middle school or community college space for high school classrooms, or requiring developers to pay impact fees or make other contributions.

By 2000, the report says, even with temporary classrooms, additions and new schools already planned, six county high schools will be 1,647 students over capacity.

By 2005, high school crowding is projected to more than double, while elementary enrollments will drop far below classroom capacity, the report says.

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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