It's not exactly the baby boom of the post-World War II era, but state officials are estimating that Maryland's public school population will rise to 840,790 students -- an increase of 20 percent from 1990 -- by the year 2000.
Maryland Office of Planning Director Ronald M. Kreitner yesterday announced the forecast, which is contained in an analysis prepared by his office titled "Public School Enrollment Projections -- 1990-2000."
State officials said the numbers will rise because more families with children are moving into the state and the birth rate here has been higher in recent years.
Kreitner said the swelling districts will require planners to build more schools and infrastructure.
"Good planning practices dictate that school boards enhance existing facilities and recycle their old schools, when possible, and reopen them for their new students," he said.
The mini-boom will be led by an estimated 52.2 percent rise in Howard County public school enrollment over the decade, according to state estimates. The county had 29,863 students in 1990 and is projected to have 45,450 in September 2000.
The state planning office is projecting a 17.5 percent enrollment increase in the Baltimore metropolitan area. The number of students in the region is expected to rise from 335,546 in 1990 to 394,310 in 2000.
Besides the boost in Howard, enrollment is expected to rise 35.7 percent in Carroll County; 23.3 percent in Baltimore County; 21.1 percent in Harford County, and 14.9 percent in Anne Arundel County. Baltimore is projected to face a 0.5 percent decline.
The state projections for Howard are even higher than those made by county public school officials, who estimate that enrollment will rise to about 41,000 students by 2000.
Howard County School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey expressed some surprise at the figures. He said the state's projections usually are lower than the county's. He said the rising numbers should persuade state officials to pump more money into local districts to handle the growth.
"I think the state is going to have to assess its level of school construction funding in counties like ours," Hickey said. "The county will also have to come up with more funds because the cost of education is continuing to rise in growing areas."
Maurice Kalin, associate superintend in Howard, noted that county officials reduced the school budget for the current fiscal year.
"It's going to be very difficult to accommodate the growth we have projected and continue to take major budget cuts if we are to continue to maintain the quality programs we have in Howard County," Kalin said.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker was reserved in his comments on the projections.
"It's a mixed bag," Ecker said. "It does place a lot of demands. We need some growth to continue to be a healthy county. Show me a county that's not growing and I'll show you one that's hurting and has problems. If we can manage and direct our growth, we'll be OK."
He said it would be difficult to accommodate the growth if the economy doesn't improve.
The increased population poses a problem for school planners who have to predict exactly where the growth will occur because it takes several years to get new schools off the planning board and onto the soil.
"It's going to be difficult," said William J. Brown, director of school construction in Howard.
Brown added that county schools officials would not immediately accept the state's enrollment projections because they had not seen the factors that were used to arrive at the figures.
Elsewhere in the state, the report said, fast-growing counties include Calvert, projected to have a 43.5 percent enrollment between 1990 and 2000; Queen Anne's, 39.4 percent; Charles, 38.8 percent; Montgomery, 31.8 percent; and Frederick, 29.4 percent.
Southern Maryland will be the fastest-growing area of the state, officials said, with a 32.3 percent increase in the area composed of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties.
The lower Eastern Shore is projected to have the slowest increase at 8.7 percent.