Better school figures sought

Reassurance asked by council during meeting with board

New charts released

More predictable enrollment numbers, crowding discussed

October 03, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

As school enrollment predictions continue to change, Howard County Council members sought reassurance from school officials yesterday at a meeting in the George Howard Building that the future will be more predictable than the past.

The latest charts introduced at Monday night's County Council meeting, for example, show Northfield Elementary School in Ellicott City just under the legal limit for crowding - by 0.4 of 1 percent The school was at 115 percent in a chart two weeks ago, but the figure was recalculated to 114.6 percent.

That means the area around the school will be open to developers in 2004 - despite charts produced by school officials two weeks ago that said otherwise. Under county law, development around a school projected to be 115 percent of capacity in three years is halted until changes correct the problem. The chart will become law if the council adopts it formally at a meeting Nov. 5.

But there are lots of variables - such as redistricting and proposed additions - in play, and the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance citizens committee is set to meet Oct. 11 to discuss the situation.

County officials have been stung time and again by predictions that failed to foresee crowded classrooms despite repeated complaints by parents. The results are often hasty plans for more expensive school buildings, angry parents and frustrated developers.

Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, said he is worried about crowding predicted at Lisbon Elementary and Glenwood Middle schools - despite plans for a new western middle school in two years, and a new elementary for the western county by 2006.

Why, he asked, should Glenwood Middle be overcrowded in 2005, as the chart predicts, if a new middle school is to open very close by, next to Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School? And how will a new elementary school help Lisbon's crowding problem, if it is built in Highland, farther south? Meanwhile, nearby Bushy Park Elementary is predicted to be under capacity.

Deputy School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said a proposed addition to Clarksville Middle School will help, if the school board approves building it.

And council members Mary C. Lorsung and C. Vernon Gray, both Columbia Democrats, wanted more assurances from board members that a general shifting of elementary and middle school district lines will be complete for the August 2003 opening of school.

"How are you going to address the problem of schools with under 90 percent capacity?" Gray asked, worried that the board may close underenrolled schools in Columbia.

"I'm sure redistricting for 2003 will fill those seats," school board President Jane B. Schuchardt said. Board member Sandra H. French agreed, saying "existing seats are the cheapest ones around."

School officials plan to redistrict Pointers Run Elementary and Clarksville Elementary for next year, because of the overwhelming crowding at Pointers Run, which has more than 1,100 students this year, nearly double its capacity.

But Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said there is no plan to correct imbalances between other schools until the countywide redistricting. The current chart, for example, shows Elkridge Landing Middle School at 20 percent over capacity in 2004, while newly rebuilt Ellicott Mills Middle nearby, has a prediction of 87 percent enrollment and the new Bonnie Branch Middle in the same area is predicted to have an enrollment of 95.2 percent of capacity.

But O'Rourke said the "pain" of redistricting is too great for parents and children to do it too often. At Pointers Run, Cousin said, "there's no option" but to take action now.

On another front, Cousin said the board must decide within a month whether to proceed with condemnation to acquire land needed to expand Glenelg High School's septic field, and allow a 400-seat addition for 2004. Renovations at the 1958 building are also on hold, while the county seeks state Health Department approval for repairs to the current septic system, Cousin said.

Glenelg was originally slated to have the addition open this year, but problems with the school's sewage disposal system have delayed it.

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