Harford County lawmakers have rejected a series of recommendations from a task force that would have put more muscle into a bill designed to ease the crowding in public schools by changing the adequate public facilities laws to restrict new housing development.
"I can't believe it. They voted against every single amendment made by the task force at its last meeting," Councilman Dion F. Guthrie said after the County Council meeting Tuesday night.
"They turned their backs on the schoolchildren of the county, the teachers and the parents," said Guthrie, who represents Edgewood and Joppatowne. He is the only Democrat on the council.
The council rejected all four of the task force's proposed amendments, which were introduced by Guthrie. They included:
A proposal from task force member and Schools Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas that enrollment projections be based on the school system's numbers and not those supplied by the Department of Planning and Zoning.
A proposal from the Harford County Council of PTAs that preliminary approval for new housing construction be withheld by the county in any school district in which a school exceeds 110 percent of its designed capacity or is projected to reach 110 percent in four years.
The bill before the council sets the figure at 115 percent. The current law does not stop preliminary approvals until a school's capacity tops 120 percent.
A related proposal that would stop preliminary approvals for new houses in a school district if any school in that district is projected to reach 110 percent in four years.
A suggestion that testing for school capacity be done quarterly. It is currently done once a year. The bill before the council would have testing performed Dec. 1 and June 1 each year.
The motions to introduce the amendments were not seconded.
"These amendments came from seven months of work by the task force," said Guthrie. "There should have at least been a second so that there could be discussion, [so] they could be open for debate."
Guthrie first proposed changes in the APF laws, as they are commonly called, in March when he sought to correct situations that has some schools operating at 20 percent and 29 percent above their student capacity.
It was his proposal to have the county halt preliminary approval for new housing construction in any school district where a school exceeded 100 percent of its enrollment capacity that led to the formation of the nine-member task force to study the issue.
In a separate action related to schools and housing construction, the council made significant changes to a bill that would establish an adequate public facilities advisory board.
The board would review the county's adequate public facilities legislation and annual growth report and make recommendations to the council for changes, if necessary, to keep housing development in line with school construction.
The bill called for a nine-member board appointed by the council.
An amendment that would cut the board from nine to six members was approved 6 to 1.
The council is scheduled to vote on both bills Oct. 7.