Howard lawmakers are exploring a proposed capacity chart meant to limit overcrowding in the county’s public schools.
The chart is attached to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, a set of regulations that weighs residential construction’s impact on nearby roads and school populations. Last year, the County Council narrowly voted to tighten controls on development by lowering thresholds on formulas that define when schools are considered overcrowded.
The measure requires lawmakers to approve a chart that would be used by the Department of Planning and Zoning to review proposed development’s impact on schools.
If a proposed project fails the test, the developer must wait four years, at which time it is retested and then “deemed to have passed the school capacity test,” the measure states.
For elementary schools and regions that are 105% over capacity, development would be closed for four years. The threshold is 110% for middle schools and 115% for high schools.
Howard has one of the most sought-after school systems in the state. In December, the Maryland State Department of Education ranked the school system under the Every Student Succeeds Act, an accountability system which is required by the federal government. Of Howard’s 77 schools, 31 schools received the highest ranking of five stars. Thirty-six schools received four stars, six schools received three stars and one school received one star, according to the report. No school received two stars.
Three schools were not included in the report. Cedar Lane and the Applications Research Laboratory are categorized as non-comprehensive schools due to specialty program offerings, and Hanover Hills Elementary was excluded because the school is in its first year.
The Board of Education approved the annual APFO chart in May to be sent to the County Council. There will be a public hearing on the chart and other proposals June 17 and a council work session June 21, with the council set to vote July 1.
The County Council’s update last year mandated creating a high school capacity chart for the first time and modifying the thresholds that define when schools are considered overcrowded. There are now four annual APFO charts, one each for the elementary, middle and high school levels and one reflecting the elementary school regions, including Columbia West, Columbia East, northeastern, northern, southeastern and the western regions.
If the schools and regions are lower than the new thresholds, they are considered “open” for new development. If a region or school has a capital “C” next to it on the various charts, that means the area is constrained and no new development can be built. The letter “C” indicates those schools and regions are above the thresholds.
Eighteen elementary schools and one region are constrained, as well as six middle and six high schools, Renee Kamen, the school system’s manager of school planning, said earlier this month at a school board meeting.
The 18 elementary schools are Cradlerock, Bryant Woods, Clemens Crossing, Running Brook, Bellow Springs, Elkridge, Hanover Hills, Veterans, Centennial Lane, Hollifield Station, Northfield Station, St. John’s Lane, Waverly, Atholton, Gorman Crossing, Fulton, Pointers Run and West Friendship. The northern elementary region — Centennial Lane, Manor Woods, Hollifield Station, Northfield Station, St. John’s Lane, Waverly — is constrained.
The six middle schools above the threshold are Bonny Branch, Ellicott Mills, Thomas Viaduct, Dunloggin, Patapsco and Murray Hill.
In the high school chart, Howard, Long Reach, Centennial, Mt. Hebron, Hammond and Reservoir are all considered constrained.
The County Council will also consider legislation that would extend the wait time to seven years if a development project fails the school capacity test.
Councilwoman Liz Walsh proposed the measure which saw support from community advocates including the Howard County Citizens Association and the PTA Council of Howard County.
The Board of Education previously expressed concern the measure will have an adverse impact on funding, as it would exacerbate the loss of student enrollment and “decrease revenues used for school construction … [and] taxes that fund operational budgets,” school board Chairwoman Mavis Ellis previously said.
Walsh’s measure also received pushback from the Maryland Building Industry Association which last year projected APFO would cause the county to lose $138 million in future revenues. Citing a report that found Howard’s revenue could soon outpace its spending, Vice President of Government Affairs Angelica Bailey wrote, “Extending the schools test would further lower the county's budget and its ability to provide public services … and [would] destroy the county's previous reputation for business friendliness.”
The County Council will host a public hearing on these proposals and others at 7 p.m. June 17 in the George Howard Building.