Loch Raven school flap

Our view : A high school addition is a reasonable solution

May 28, 2008

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. is taking a drubbing from vocal county residents who are upset over his support of some public school construction projects. The latest involves a 400-seat addition to Loch Raven High School, an expansion designed to help alleviate overcrowding in the Perry Hall and Towson areas. But on this project, the criticism of Mr. Smith is unfair. Some county residents want a new high school, but the projected enrollment figures aren't enough to justify state funding, and the Loch Raven addition is a reasonable alternative.

The county executive and his staff could surely use some pointers in constituent hand-holding, and they badly misread the public's response to Mr. Smith's proposed solution to overcrowding at Towson elementary schools. But the Loch Raven addition has been in the works for more than a year, and complaints raised by area residents and state legislators now don't justify delaying this project, despite Comptroller Peter Franchot's attempts to placate critics. The state Board of Public Works has held up funding for the Loch Raven project until a state school construction panel holds a hearing next month. Mr. Smith's critics have been tough, despite his success at winning state funding for county school projects. During Gov. Martin O'Malley's first two years in office, the county received $93 million in school construction funds, compared with $23 million during a similar period in the Ehrlich administration.

Baltimore County has needs - it has the second-oldest school stock in the state. But schools in some areas of the county are underutilized and in others, overcrowded. Redistricting can solve overcrowding, but it's an unpalatable solution to parents who favor neighborhood schools. School construction is a state-county partnership, with local governments spending about $3 for every state dollar. Parents who want new schools must decide how much they want to pay to build them.

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