Harford County public schools face a capacity disaster, according to one of the newest members of the school board who has called the County Council, County Executive James M. Harkins' administration and citizens to come together in seeking a solution to the problem.
"Today, we have a disaster that is imminent in being able to house and educate our children," Mark M. Wolkow, said at the close of the school board meeting last week.
"We have a capacity disaster on our hands," he told the other members of the board, including Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas. "We've seen it coming. We've been shifting, realigning and balancing to try to put it off. But it's at our doorsteps, and we must do something about it."
Wolkow is the latest in a series of school and county officials to speak out in recent months about public schools struggling to keep pace with residential growth.
The Department of Planning and Zoning reported late last month that even if the county halted all new preliminary housing approvals, developers could still proceed with the construction of 6,066 houses in the pipeline.
Joseph Licata, assistant superintendent for school operations, said that many houses would likely generate an additional 3,400 students in a county where many schools are already seriously overcrowded.
He said this number would be in addition to the normal growth in students from homes already in the county.
"Our schools are not keeping pace with growth in the county," Licata said. "This has got to be addressed. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to address."
Wolkow is a school board representative on a county task force that is studying proposed legislation that would change the county's Adequate Public Facilities law to address the overcrowding in schools. He joined the school board last year.
"Hopefully, some solid recommendations will come out of that effort," he said.
Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Democrat who represents the southern part of the county, wants to change the Adequate Public Facilities law to stop housing construction in districts where schools exceed 100 percent of their designed capacity.
The law currently seeks to halt construction when school capacity tops 120 percent.
"The current law is not working," Guthrie said. As evidence, he said, Fallston Middle School has nearly 30 percent more pupils than it was designed to handle, and 516 houses are in the pipeline.
Robert B. Thomas, another school board member, proposed recently that the county close the door to new pupils at Fallston Middle School.
He said the word should be put out that if someone buys a new house or moves into a house in the Fallston area, their children would be required to attend another school.