New school backed for Davidsonville Board plans to seek $11.7 million from county for less costly building

September 04, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

State school officials do not want to help pay for a 600-student Davidsonville Elementary School, but the Anne Arundel County school board has decided to keep looking for ways to build a school that big and bring down the cost.

Board members debated long and hard Wednesday about a proposal to spend $14 million to replace the school on Central Avenue, a plan opposed for months as overly expensive by County Executive John G. Gary. But then they voted in favor of building a more economical structure and asking Gary for the $11.7 million to do it.

"I think we finally have a practical school that can be built for a reasonable cost," said board member Paul Rudolph.

The board had initially considered renovating the school.

In a letter to county school officials, however, Yale Stenzler, state executive director of public school construction, disputed whether growth in Davidsonville warranted building a 600-student school.

The county does not need state approval to build the school but could lose about $1 million in state funding by not following the state's recommendation.

The state contends that by redistricting attendance zones, the board could avoid the expense of a large new school.

"I am sick and tired of the county and the state telling us what to do with these schools," said board member Joseph H. Foster. "They are wrong every time, and I have been here six years. We have got to stop letting them dictate to us. Redistricting is not the solution to every problem."

Stenzler's letter Aug. 27 suggested that nearby Central and Mayo Elementary schools could absorb additional students. Stenzler said that growth projections for the Davidsonville area, zoned for agriculture and single family homes, are low.

Building a larger school could "attract residential growth which is adverse to both the State Smart Growth Initiative and the Anne Arundel County General Development Plan," he wrote.

The board could go back to the state with different enrollment figures and a new plan to build and ask again for a state contribution.

As of Monday, the start of the school year, 554 students attend Davidsonville, a building designed to hold 394. If a school for fewer than 600 students were built, the board would have to redistrict and students might have to attend a high school other than South River into which Davidsonville feeds, board members said.

"We could get by for the near term with a 450-school and also build a 450-student school at Mayo," said board member Vaughn Brown. "But it would mean changing attendance areas in Mayo, Central, Davidsonville. And that is a lot of changes."

Those schools are also close to capacity, board members say. Redistricting can disrupt the community that surrounds a school, they argue.

"You don't want to destroy that [community] simply to have a number of seats in a building match up to the number of students," Brown said. "That is not beneficial to the community, and we are here to serve the community."

Redistricting is something that some board members "absolutely dread," said board member Thomas E. Florestano, "because of all the insidious pressures that go along with it."

In May, the board dropped its appeal in a suit contesting a redistricting plan that some parents saw as having racial overtones. It would have shifted Seven Oaks students out the Arundel Senior High feeder system and into the Meade Senior High system.

"Redistricting is by no means a device that we can depend on to move people around," Florestano said. "You can't guarantee success with that."

The solution to the Davidsonville dilemma is simple, as the board sees it.

"The issue on Davidsonville is that if it can't accommodate 600 students the day it opens, then we have failed God, the country and the people from Davidsonville," Florestano said.

Davidsonville residents agree.

PTA President Tricia Johnson attended Wednesday's board meeting to urge construction of a new school.

"The longer you delay, the more serious the problems become," she told the board.

"The more costly the projects become, and the more angry the parents become. These are people's lives, their neighborhoods and their communities, all of which revolve around the schools."

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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