Trying to provide a more accurate picture of school capacity to the decision-makers who manage residential development, Carroll school board members met yesterday with county and municipal leaders to unveil a proposed policy to provide more timely and more analyzed information on whether a school can accommodate additional children.
"Our view is that the Board of Education is not the one responsible for managing growth," school board member Thomas G. Hiltz said. "You are the ones principally responsible for managing growth. It is a partnership, of course, but you are the ones who make the decisions."
Hiltz told the town managers, planners and council members that the school board had set its new guidelines on school capacity "purposefully low" to give the towns and county more time to slow growth before it overwhelms and crowds county schools.
County and municipal ordinances require the school system to assess whether a school can accommodate additional children for each residential subdivision proposed in Carroll.
Since 1998, school officials have certified only whether enrollment at a school is projected to be less than 120 percent of capacity for at least six years.
If it is not, school officials have indicated whether a school is scheduled to open within six years that would relieve crowding at the over-capacity school.
Under the proposed policy, the school system would return to a tiered system of assessments.
All schools would be deemed "adequate" up to 100 percent of capacity. Elementary schools would be "approaching inadequacy" from 101 percent to 105 percent capacity. The "approaching inadequacy" threshold would be 101 percent to 110 percent for middle and high schools.
Any elementary school at more than 105 percent of its capacity would be deemed "inadequate," while middle and high schools at more than 110 percent capacity would receive an "inadequate" designation.
None of the school system's assessments are binding - county and municipal officials may take into account or disregard the school system's warnings that proceeding with a development could cause crowding. But the categories are meant to let planners better evaluate the effect of more homes on the county's schools.
"This doesn't mean [growth] is going to stop" when a school hits 110 percent capacity, school board President Susan W. Krebs said. "There's so much [development] in the pipeline that it keeps going."
But red-flagging areas where schools could become crowded would allow towns and the county to slow growth in the hotspots while school officials pursue plans for a new school or a school addition there, board members said.
Town officials applauded the board's efforts.
"We're looking to the experts - the school board - to give us guidance," said Matthew H. Candland, Sykesville's town manager. "Not forcing something on us, but giving us guidance."
Frank M. Johnson Jr., president of Mount Airy's Town Council, echoed his thanks.