Good thinking on growth

Howard County: Controlling middle-school populations may work if planning districts govern.

June 23, 2000

HOW TO accommodate growth and preserve the integrity of schools?

Already, Howard County allows growth to exceed elementary school capacity by 20 percent. That figure is coming down, but it represents a major concession to growth.

Still, no one wants to see a school -- elementary, middle or high -- overwhelmed by students who don't fit.

But how to set limits that don't hurt someone: developers, kids or county coffers?

Reluctance to add a middle school adequacy test has been based in part on the changing nature of school district lines. But at a meeting Wednesday night, a study committee agreed that planning districts might be used because those lines do not change.

The committee is scheduled to hold its final meeting on July 8 and could vote then. The compromise appears headed toward adoption and should be.

The committee agreed that if it votes to limit growth around middle schools, it would set that limit at 115 percent of capacity.

County Executive James N. Robey and his planning director, Joseph W. Rutter Jr., have opposed adding a middle school test -- unless a way could be found to impose it without unduly affecting growth and tax revenue.

Under the proposal offered this week -- and approved by Mr. Rutter -- the test of a middle school's adequacy would be applied within relatively permanent lines.

Already, the committee appointed by Mr. Robey has recommended lowering the overcrowding threshold for elementary schools from 120 percent of capacity to 115 percent. Tests of traffic congestion were adjusted to cover intersections within 1.5 miles of a planned subdivisions. The current standard is one mile. Also, new homes near a school operating at 100 percent could not exceed 300.

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