Parents want smaller middle school classes

Howard residents urge council to widen scope of county law

January 19, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County government must find ways to keep classsize down in its middle schools as well as elementary schools covered by county law, according to people who spoke at a public hearing before the County Council last night.

Parents, especially in the Ellicott City area, complained that despite the 1992 Adequate Public Facilities Law, hundreds of new homes can be built around badly crowded schools before the law kicks in.

"Educational excellence is in jeopardy," said Debra Plunkett, a PTA president at Ilchester Elementary School.

She and several others argued that by regulating development only around crowded elementary schools, the county is asking for trouble. Plunkett noted that Clarksville Middle School is 156 percent over capacity.

Glenn Amato of Elkridge, a school board candidate, agreed, telling the council: "We need to stop subsidizing developers with taxpayers' money."

But David Berson, the chairman of a committee that examined the problem last summer, disagreed. And Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, made his feelings clear as well.

"Don't you think redistricting is a tool for addressing overcapacity?," Gray asked Guy Caiazzo, who represented the Chamber of Commerce on the committee.

Caiazzo opposed any change to the law, arguing from a business perspective that tightening the law puts all the burden on the business community.

Caiazzo, Berson, Gray and the county's League of Women Voters oppose adding middle schools to the county's Adequate Public Facilities law.

But most of the 17 speakers last night supported adding middle schools to the law.

Proposals for strengthening the law seek to limit the number of homes near crowded schools by making three changes.

Lowering the crowding threshold that triggers a building ban from 120 percent to 115 percent.

Limiting to 300 the number of new homes allowed in a school region that is operating at more than 100 percent capacity.

Extending the roads test applied to intersections near planned subdivisions from a mile to 1.5 miles. The law covers roads as well as schools.

The County Council's two Republicans, Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City and Allan H. Kittleman of the western county, are pushing an amendment to include middle schools under the law, despite opposition from other council members and County Executive James N. Robey.

Robey is backing a citizens' committee that studied ways of strengthening the law last summer and decided to leave middle schools out. Including them would be too confusing, the committee decided, because elementary and middle school districts differ.

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