The Howard County Board of Education has approved an annual report that can open or close residential development in the county.
By a vote of 6-2, the board voted Thursday, May 9 to approve the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Chart for fiscal year 2014. The APFO chart, which shows projected enrollment capacities at schools, is used in planning residential growth in Howard County. Board Vice-Chairman Brian Meshkin and board member Cindy Vaillancourt voted against approving the chart, which now goes to County Council.
If a school is at or above 115 percent capacity — considered overcrowded by county and school system standards — then the area is considered closed to residential development until that overcrowding is addressed either through redistricting or a capital project such as renovating or expanding existing schools.
This year's APFO projects enrollment capacities from 2016-17 through 2025-26. On the immediate horizon, schools such as Swansfield, Bollman Bridge, Forest Ridge, Veterans and Ducketts Lane elementary schools — the last of which hasn't even opened yet — will be overcrowded by the 2017-18 school year if redistricting or construction doesn't occur. But, according to the system's Manager of School Planning Joel Gallihue, staff is already looking at sites for another elementary school in the northeastern region of the county to further relieve overcrowding. That elementary school would open in 2019, he said.
But there are still underutilized schools in the western part of the county. According to the chart, by 2016 schools like Bushy Park, Clarksville and Dayton Oaks elementary schools will all have enrollments under 60 percent — far from the school system's preferred minimum of 90 percent capacity.
"This is a burning question," said board member Ann De Lacy. "How can we talk about capacity when we've got all of these schools under capacity here. As a board, have we talked about addressing that issue? It's a waste of money."
Gallihue acknowledged that there is open capacity in the west, and through redistricting the school system has tried to take advantage of it.
"We were talking about how far we should go this past year, and that's the rub right now," he said. "You have to be willing to make those changes in order to take advantage of it."
When the school system proposed redistricting for the upcoming school year, the plan was to move nearly 3,000 students in a domino shift westward while moving some to open the new Ducketts Lane Elementary School in Elkridge. But Superintendent Renee Foose instructed staff to go back to the drawing board to move as few students as possible.
The board will again be considering redistricting for the 2014-15 school year as a new middle school opens in the Oxford Square development in Hanover. That process will begin with the presentation of a feasibility study in June, followed by work throughout the summer and a final recommendation, discussion and vote coming in the fall.
Under the new APFO chart, middle schools whose neighborhoods would be closed to residential development because of overcrowding include Harper's Choice, Ellicott Mills, Dunloggin and Mount View middle schools. Other over-crowded middle schools like Bonnie Branch, Elkridge Landing, Mayfield Woods and Murray Hill will be relieved by redistricting to send students to the new Hanover middle school next year, but could again be over-capacity by 2017-18.
Vaillancourt voted against approving the chart because "the process is flawed and the numbers we use are flawed."
"I don't see how you can make good decisions based on flawed data, like something so simple as the capacity of a building," she said after the meeting. "It's a major problem."
Meshkin said he continued to have serious reservations on the chart.
"We know these numbers aren't accurate," he said. "I think that throughout this process, where the numbers are based on assumptions they are inaccurate."
Meshkin asked if the school system was doing anything to address discrepancies between actual and reported enrollment and capacities in county schools. Gallihue said middle schools were being evaluated through an educational architecture firm, and the system's Executive Director of Facilities, Planning and Management Ken Roey said the same evaluation would be given to all schools "at some point."