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Crowding not tied to waivers


Eliminating a controversial program that allows developers to build where schools are already crowded won't solve Anne Arundel County's growth problems, a committee studying the issue has concluded.

Instead, the committee members say, the waiver system should remain, and county and school system planners must do a better job to ensure that schools are not crowded.

The waiver system allows developers to pay a fee in exchange for county permission to build where schools are crowded. The developers' money is supposed to go toward building more classrooms.

A draft of the committee's report, obtained by The Sun, lists three suggestions for handling the problems caused by rapid development: changing school attendance boundaries more frequently, using split sessions and taking a closer look at year-round schooling.

News of the committee's preliminary recommendations angered some school board members.

"We've spent 16 months of pure unadulterated pain trying to do countywide redistricting," said Thomas Twombly, the board's vice president. "I think the school board has gone to the middle of the road, but nobody in county government is meeting us halfway.

"Instead they've thumbed their nose at us," he said. "They keep saying 'Trust us, we'll build the facilities later.' And guess what? It never takes place."

Of the $16 million in waiver fees the county has collected, only $1 million has been spent. The problem is that there are restrictions on how money collected from developers can be spent. The money can only be spent on schools that feed students into the high school nearest the development.

Mr. Twombly said it would make more sense to put the money in a countywide school construction fund so it could be spent more wisely.

In the draft report, the committee suggests that money from waiver fees could be put to better use if the Board of Education collapsed the 12 high school feeder systems into three or four larger districts.

In addition, the draft dismisses the idea that waivers, and the new developments they allow, are the main reason schools in some areas of the county, such as the Broadneck peninsula, are crowded.

According to the report, the committee agrees that in some cases waivers exacerbated crowding. But statistics in the report show thatsince 1991, developments built with waivers have added only 515 students to a school system that now has 70,000 children.

Crowding has been compounded by the loss of 36 classrooms in recent years -- space that has been consumed by the expansion of libraries, computer centers and other programs, the report said.

"Everything sucks out capacity. It's not just waivers. Waivers are a small part of it," said Arthur D. Ebersberger, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee to Study Waivers of Adequacy of School Facilities Requirements.

While the school system has predicted that the student population will rise from 70,000 to 78,000 by 2000 or 2005, Mr. Ebersberger said enrollment will fluctuate during that period. He said the variations mean the school system should consider looking more carefully at the use of portable classrooms, split sessions and year-round schooling.

But Mary Marsh, of the Broadneck Federation of Communities Inc. takes a different view. "What we have to make a decision about is whether community schooling is important to county government," Mrs. Marsh said. "If it is important, then they have to follow through on that policy with their planning and zoning decisions."

The committee will meet at 7 p.m. tomorrow in Room 309 of The Arundel Center to complete the report.

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