The Anne Arundel County Council this week approved a new school utilization chart, which lists schools that are considered “open” or “closed” based on projected capacity.
The vote was 4-3 down party lines, with council members Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater, Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, and Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold, voting against.
“We heard there was a big drop in enrollment in 2020 [because of the coronavirus pandemic] and we got a lot of those kids back, 1,500 of them, but they are not accounted for in the chart,” Haire said during Tuesday’s meeting. “With the data so old, we are not projecting enrollment accurately. So we are seeing in real-time schools are overcrowded, but the chart doesn’t reflect that. We need a better system.”
The legislation is an annual approval of the school utilization chart, which has been updated by the Department of Planning and Zoning based on 2022-23 projected enrollment. The chart is based on information supplied by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, using attendance from the 2020-21 school year.
Overall enrollment projections and capacity utilization ultimately influence future school construction and redistricting, which may have a future fiscal impact.
If schools are too full in certain areas, large developments can’t be built, the idea being the infrastructure doesn’t exist to support the children who would move in and existing schools would crowd to an impractical point. The county Board of Education periodically sets the official count of which areas are “closed” or “open” based on school populations.
High schools estimated to be at 100% capacity are considered “closed,” while that number is 95% for middle and elementary schools. The chart shows six of the county’s 13 high schools are projected to be “closed” in the 2022-23 school year: Annapolis, Broadneck, Crofton, Glen Burnie, North County and Old Mill.
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There are six elementary schools that are expected to be “closed”: Belvedere, Brock Bridge, Brooklyn Park, Crofton Meadows, Crofton Woods, Davidsonville and West Annapolis. For the middle schools, there are only two that are projected to be “closed”: Arundel and Crofton.
Volke asked during the meeting what is the status of a new way to calculate the school capacity data.
Director of Planning and Zoning Steven Kaii-Ziegler responded that the school Adequate Public Facilities work group just finished with data collection and is moving to look at concepts that will be different from the current form of school Adequate Public Facilities and how it is calculated. He doesn’t anticipate seeing the updated method, which would include legislation and possible changes to taxes or fees, happening until next year.
“What we’re intending to give the work group is probably three options. One, do we like the system we have and do we want to stick with it? That’s probably going to be a resounding ‘no.’ Is there a way to make more modest changes in the system we have? That’s the second option. And the third option would look more like” what other jurisdictions have done, Kaii-Ziegler said. “… I don’t know what a quick fix would be, frankly.”
Council member Allison Pickard, D-Glen Burnie, added that to really get school utilization right, to ensure every kid goes to a school that is at the right capacity and to ensure the county is spending limited tax dollars effectively, you have to “go deep” on the data and examine how different policies interact.