Meeting tackles overfull school

Parents, leaders discuss how to ease crowding at Bushy Park Elementary

No room for 269 extra pupils

Some classes being held in closets and hallways

Howard County

November 11, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Six politicians and some 150 parents met last night at Bushy Park Elementary School over an increasingly common dilemma for suburban counties - too many children, not enough classrooms and dwindling financial resources to deal with the resulting crowding.

The 27-year old school in Glenwood - with 269 more children than it was designed for - needs up to 13 more rooms for all-day kindergarten and to get youngsters out of closets, hallways and six portables, school officials say.

The parents want relief, but the school's cafeteria and gym are too small for such an expansion, the septic system can't handle it and the county can't afford all the new school buildings needed countywide without a new source of revenue, according to County Executive James N. Robey.

With state school construction money dwindling, Howard, like the other fast-growing counties of Carroll and Harford, is having trouble keeping pace with the demands of growth.

Robey, a Democrat, wants the county's state legislators to approve a real estate transfer tax increase to create a $215 million fund dedicated to school construction, but his plan was killed last winter by Howard's three state senators.

Now, he is asking them again for help. The legislators have scheduled a public hearing on the issue Nov. 20 in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Last night, Robey did a delicate dance with five anti-tax Republican legislators and County Council members on the stage with him. Present were state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller and western county Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, along with Councilman Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City.

"We're going to have to raise a predictable, reasonable amount of money," Robey told the crowd.

School board member Courtney Watson framed the issue even more succinctly.

"This is in the hands of the senators and delegates. It is really the delegates and senators who need to hear your position," on the transfer tax or other tax proposals, she said.

But Councilman Kittleman warned that "we just can't keep raising taxes," which he said "will kill the economic engine" driving Howard's prosperity. "I've got to say, `you can't do it all.' That's what I see my job as."

Robey pushed through a big increase in local income taxes last spring.

Senator Kittleman warned that higher transfer taxes increase home closing costs. Miller talked about "the incredible cost taxes put on us."

The school board recently recommended a $1.5 million study of whether Bushy Park should be renovated and expanded by 150 seats for $12 million, or replaced with a $20 million building for 678 pupils, perhaps converting the current building into a regional all-day kindergarten center.

The possible addition for Bushy Park was included in the $150 million school construction request by school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke, but the school board cut it in paring the request to $115.1 million.

"Bushy Park is currently the most crowded elementary school in the county. It has 709 students but was designed for 440," said its PTA president, Lucinda Peters.

"We have no place to put anyone anymore," she said, noting that classes are held in hallways, closets and other unused spaces. "Something needs to happen."

The county has plans to build a new western elementary school by August 2006, perhaps in Dayton, which could temporarily relieve Bushy Park, but the old school's enrollment likely will begin rising again, Peters said.

The parents were friendly, and opinions varied after the 90-minute session.

"I feel like our hands are tied. They didn't tell us what to do," said Rick Welsh, who has four children and does not favor higher taxes.

"It's a slippery slope," he said of tax increases, preferring elimination of waste in government spending instead.

"I'm not opposed to the transfer tax," said Nancy Votto, a mother of three, adding that it would help pay for new schools with money from people moving into Howard County.

"If we don't do something now, this problem's only going to get worse, " Peters said.

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