Plan aims at crowded schools Gary wants to block construction where over-enrollment exists

March 25, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The school board won't stop sending children from new subdivisions to crowded schools and won't approve redistricting, frustrated county administration officials said yesterday.

So County Executive John G. Gary wants to try something different, having county planners stop approving subdivisions where schools are crowded.

"It's keeping children from going to an overcrowded school. If the result of that is less subdivisions, that's an economic shame for the county," said Ronald Nelson, county land-use and environment officer. For Gary, "that is paramount to development, the education of the children," Nelson said.

Nelson and other officials are hoping any shame will fall on the school board.

If the school board continues to refuse to redistrict, it will, in effect, "disrupt the economic engine of the county," Nelson said.

Some County Council members are skeptical.

At a work session yesterday on proposed legislation, council members reviewed a bill that would change the way county planners determine whether schools have enough capacity for a proposed subdivision.

If no subdivisions are approved after the corresponding elementary, middle or high schools become crowded, the school system would never have to consider redistricting, Councilman William C. Mulford II said.

Council Chairman Bert Rice, who sponsored the legislation at Gary's request, seemed to toss up his hands in exasperation after Nelson and Deputy County Attorney David Plymyer explained the administration's motive.

"We will clearly stop development in many, many areas of the county while we are sitting with capacity in many, many other areas of the county," Rice said.

Administration officials said they had little choice. "We're

banging our head up against reality here, and sometimes you have to capitulate to reality," Plymyer said. "They are packing kids into elementary schools where they are over capacity."

No school board members or school system officials were present when the subdivision legislation was discussed. Neither Board President Carlesa R. Finney nor Thomas Rhoades, director of program planning, who works on redistricting, could be reached for comment afterward.

The Gary administration has long clashed with the school board over school crowding issues. Gary has balked at spending money on construction when some schools have empty seats.

The latest administration swipe at the board comes at a time when the school system must defend its $501.5 million operating and $46.8 million capital budget requests to Gary and the council. The school board has proposed an operating budget with a $67.6 million increase over this year's budget.

For years, county planners have seemingly been at odds with school system practices when reviewing proposed subdivisions. Planners considered the capacity available in an entire high school feeder system of schools when deciding whether to allow subdivisions. This meant, for example, that a subdivision proposed in the district of a crowded elementary school could win approval if other elementary schools in the feeder system had empty seats.

However, the school system assigns children to schools based on geographic school districts, regardless of whether seats are open in a school elsewhere in the same feeder system.

The legislation discussed yesterday would bring county law into line with the school system policy. County planners would look at the capacity of the elementary, middle or high school where children from a proposed subdivision would be assigned.

Planners in the Department of Planning and Code Enforcement began to do that about six months ago, turning down subdivision requests, but the county board of appeals has overturned several of those decisions, Plymyer said yesterday.

The problem is that the written policy of the Department of Planning and Code Enforcement says subdivision approval is based on the capacity in the feeder system. The legislation, an emergency bill, would modify the County Adequacy of Public Facilities regulations, putting the new practice into law.

The legislation is needed urgently because the county keeps losing battles with developers before the county board of appeals, Plymyer said.

"The more cases we lose, the more overcrowding occurs," he said.

The bill, introduced March 16, will be the subject of a public hearing and possibly a vote at the April 6 council meeting.

Developers want the council to slow down.

"I don't think this is going to be sufficient to compel the Board of Education to do what [the county] sees as the right thing," said Susan S. Davies, government relations liaison with the Home Builders Association of Maryland. "It could be used as a stop-growth measure."

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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