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The Baltimore County Council seems to be concerned about how the school district is calculating its enrollment projections. Their key objection seems to be that the school district has changed methodology without informing council. While we're concerned whether council's interest is more more political than pedagogical, we also wonder why the school district kept a key decision under wraps.

This is no minor topic. Enrollment projections point to the answer of an important question: Where should the county build schools? County public schools are persistently overcrowded and demographic projections indicate the situtation will get worse in years to come. New schools are unquestionably needed.

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Council on May 21 adopted its $3.3 billion operating budget for the coming fiscal year. It was changed little from the spending package proposed in April by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. However, during the budget review process county officials let it be known they are unhappy with the school district, which gets about half the budget funds, because school officials changed the way the district makes long-term enrollment projections without discussing this change first with members of County Council or with Kamenetz.

And that's not all. Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, saying she was concerned about a "ripple effect" on school construction projects if enrollment projections change, said the county plans to hire a consultant to review the school district's projections. Plans call for paying this consultant $50,000.

Bevins put the blame for this "cumbersome development" with its extra cost on the school district for not speaking up. For his part, schools Superintendent Dallas Dance merely said he looks forward "to the continued positive partnership" with the council and Kamenetz.

Enrollment projection is tricky. It involves not just zoning, population shift and demographics, but the economy. When West Towson Elementary opened a few years ago to relieve overcrowding in the region, it was almost immediately overcrowded. Some attributed this to a downturn in the economy, which caused parents with kids in private schools to switch to a public school to save money.

So, the school district is trying a new method, which it believes will be more accurate, in calculating future enrollment. It failed to tell council it was doing this. Kamenetz and council members are peeved and are willing to spend $50,000 for a second opinion.

This is a debate happening too late. The school district should have put this on the table before budget season. On the other hand, council's $50,000 bid looks like a politically motivated hedge bet. And the enrollment projection outcome may well be two conflicting opinions.

It's possible there needs to be some kind of liaison between these two agencies to avoid this in the future. In any case, this is not the way to conduct the public's business.

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