Fixing crowded schools Anne Arundel: Problem isn't countywide and solutions can't be tailored to whole feeder systems.

June 19, 1998

CROWDED SCHOOLS are not the rule in Anne Arundel County, but in a number of elementary schools, enrollment far exceeds capacity.

On Monday, the County Council wisely decided that halting subdivision approvals this year is not the answer.

A broad-brush solution wouldn't work. Indeed, some elementary schools in Anne Arundel have ample space.

Stopping building in those neighborhoods would be senseless. Yet slowing subdivisions temporarily may be precisely the answer in other communities such as Davidsonville, Odenton and Jacobsville, where schools are crowded with students.

County Executive John G. Gary's policy is to disallow new subdivisions in communities where enrollment is 20 percent above a school's capacity.

It's a rational plan, but to work properly, it must be targeted to individual schools, not to overall feeder systems -- the grouping of elementaries that feeds to middle schools and a high school. No development should be approved in the attendance zones of crowded schools on the premise that the feeder system has room because the past has shown that redrawing school boundaries is politically next to impossible.

The public needs to understand, however, than ending subdivision approvals will not stop construction. Many building lots were approved years ago. This pent-up development potential is another threat to cause school crowding.

Some schools were simply designed too small for their communities. They were crowded as soon as they opened.

The short-term fix could be to adjust attendance zones; the long-term solution may be to renovate certain schools in areas where the classrooms clearly will continue to be needed.

In the past school year, 25 county schools were over capacity. That was down from 32 the previous year. Addressing crowded schools on an individual basis, is the best approach.

! Pub date: 6/19/98

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