Culleton: When it comes to school population figures, there's history behind math

Culleton on Carroll

September 29, 2012|By John Culleton

Currently there is a set of facts about Carroll County Public Schools populations that are capable of two nearly opposite interpretations.

If you compare the elementary school population with the preschool population in Carroll, you find that there are 1.27 students for every preschooler.

That's the highest ratio in central Maryland, and the higher number of school children compared to pre-school children leads many leaders to assume that our elementary school population will continue to decline.

Some commissioners have proposed closing some schools, and the school system is engaged in a review to determine if any options might make sense. (That topic was the subject of forums this past week by commissioners Doug Howard and Haven Shoemaker, and will also be discussed at the school board in October.)

In addition, the commissioners recently voted to eliminate the impact fee charged for new houses related to school construction.

But another, totally opposite, interpretation is possible. It could be that families tend to move to Carroll County when their children reach school age, because of the quality of the schools and the relatively low cost of housing compared to, say, Howard County.

The recent housing crisis has temporarily constricted this flow of new families to Carroll, and school population has declined as a result. But as the housing market improves and fewer families statewide are under water on their current mortgages, the flow will pick up again.

I would suggest that it would be instructive to study the current student population to determine how many were actually born somewhere else. For example, all of my children were born outside of Carroll County. Of my grandchildren who are (or were) students in Carroll County Public Schools, more than half were born somewhere else.

I know that Carroll County has traditionally projected future school populations based on groups of existing younger children. But Carroll tends to have 27 percent more elementary students than preschoolers. The national average is more like one to one.

I predict that when the housing market returns to more normal conditions, the flow of families with school age children to Carroll will resume. As the school system and the commissioners review the options and the public weighs in over the course of the next several months, lets not lose sight of how quickly populations can increase given the right market.

We've seen that before.

Meanwhile, as various growth plans are being considered — the overall master plan, the Finksburg plan, the Freedom plan — the emphasis of a majority of the commissioners is on "property rights." But growth plans, by their very nature, tend to limit property rights, don't they?

If we had no growth plan, then anyone could build anything they wanted without restraint.

In my neck of the woods, Eldersburg, that philosophy led to the weird rerouting of Mineral Hills Road to lead into a development instead of continuing straight. The intersection of Mineral Hill and Conan Doyle was so contorted that school buses had difficulty making it around the triangular island in the middle. Correcting this silly mistake cost someone considerable money.

Similarly, a lack of appropriate planning allowed development along both sides of Liberty Road without regard to parallel feeder roads to divert traffic off the state highway. As a result, both local and through traffic now crowd Liberty Road.

In that instance it's too late now to do much about it. But pieces of existing road could be connected still ... if that becomes a planning objective.

When it comes to both issues — school facilities and planning — I urge my fellow Carroll County citizens to make time to attend various public meetings. These are the most pressing issues facing Carroll County right now. And if your voice is not heard, someone else's might be.

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