Making the case for an 11th high school Howard County: After adding two high schools recently, Hickey proposes another.

September 26, 1997

PUBLIC SCHOOL OFFICIALS in Howard County believe that projected growth in enrollment is strong enough to merit state construction funds for another high school.

After equivocating for a few years, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey decided to plan for the county's 11th high school in his fiscal 1999 capital budget proposal, for the 12-month period that begins next July.

Current and projected growth are immense. Howard's enrollment growth the past five years, 23 percent, is second in Maryland behind Calvert County, and the largest of the metropolitan jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, state officials have preferred in recent years to encourage counties to resolve crowding by building additions to existing high schools. Another hurdle: The state is not in the habit of funding schools to meet anticipated growth, but to relieve existing over-enrollment. It demands to see, in a term often used, "the whites of their eyes."

Dr. Hickey's rationale for a new high school is warranted, but he unfortunately made it sound political the other day. Gov. Parris N. Glendening "took care of Baltimore City and [Prince George's] County last year, now maybe if he takes care of Montgomery, he'll have something left for us," he said. His best argument is need, not taking turns at the trough.

In Howard, need has driven the construction of 19 new buildings since 1986, including two high schools and a replacement. The county has shouldered the lion's share of these costs, a burden that has made it the state's largest per capita debtor.

Meanwhile, high school enrollment is projected to rise 37 percent in the next decade. Existing schools would be hard-pressed to accommodate the 4,200-student increase, even if cumbersome additions are constructed.

Without another school, River Hill High will have 2,400 students a decade from now, and Howard, Centennial, Long Reach and Mount Hebron each will have more than 1,800.

Whether the county can convince the state Interagency Committee on Public School Construction of the need for another high school is the crucial question. Much is riding on the ability of Howard's elected and appointed officials to make a persuasive case.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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