Building extra capacity

July 26, 2011|By EDITORIAL FROM THE AEGIS

With capacity for fewer than 300 students, making it one of the smallest public schools in Harford County, Dublin has the odd distinction of being regarded as the only school in the county expected to exceed its capacity in the years to come.

As a result, a residential building moratorium will be in place in the area served by the school, until the crowding issue is resolved.

There are a number of reasons why, a few years after the county government and school system were poised to build two new elementary schools to deal with overcrowding, that crowding is no longer a problem.

One reason, of course, is that one of the two schools ended up being built, Red Pump Elementary. Even without that school, however, it turned out there was substantial classroom space in the county's schools, just not in prime residential development areas. The Red Pump school fixed this, and when the housing market picks up, new developments can spring up in the Bel Air area.

Another reason for the extra space is that enrollment hasn't kept up with enrollment projections in recent years. Indeed, school system enrollment has been relatively flat.

Possibly the strangest reason for the extra desks, though, requires an explanation from the made-up rock star Nigel Tufnel of the fictional band Spinal Tap.

One of the most infamous scenes in the cult classic movie is when Nigel Tufnel explains that his guitar amp volume dial goes to 11 whereas ordinary guitar amps only go to 10.

The interviewer asks, why not just make the amps louder, but keep the traditional 1-to-10 dial.

Tufnel responds: "These go to 11."

Such is the logic of what constitutes school capacity. If a school is rated as having capacity for, say, 300 students, it doesn't become overcrowded until it is beyond 110 percent of capacity, or 331 students. That's when the building moratorium kicks in. So what is the capacity of the school, 300 or 330?

But wait, there's more. For a few years, the county's building moratorium for overcrowded schools kicked in when a school went past 105 percent of capacity, or to 316 students in that theoretical 300-student school.

The county council, however, allowed a sunset in the 105 percent trigger to take effect, moving the building moratorium threshold from 105 to 110 percent. This adds capacity of 15 students to a relatively small school, but has the effect of adding a few hundred desks to the school system as a whole.

So why not just cap development when a realistic capacity of 300, or 315 or 330, is reached rather than play these numbers games?

It's a question whose answer again relates to the relationship between school capacity, county politics and the residential building industry, and is an answer that isn't nearly as amusing as the scene from the "Spinal Tap" movie.

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