Why Ecker resists new school Howard County: Chief executivemay have reasonable explanation, but he hasn't voiced it well.


THE PROTESTS of Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker that it would be unwise to build another high school have fallen on deaf ears.

And why not? The county's need for an 11th high school seems like a no-brainer, given the 8,000 additional students expected in the system in the next dozen years. A new report, however, while not vindicating Mr. Ecker's opposition to a new school, helps explain his reluctance.

The county's seventh annual Development Monitoring System Report indicates that the rate of home construction in Howard has been slower than predicted. The population is still growing, but whether that growth will be sufficient to warrant a new high school isn't as clear as it once seemed.

The county's 1990 General Plan predicted 50,000 homes would be built by 2010. That's an average of 2,500 houses each year. But the new planning department development report shows the number of building permits issued for residential housing has been averaging fewer than 2,000 units a year.

That's still a lot of houses, even if less than expected. And the reduced level of construction is by design. It's part of Mr. Ecker's managed-growth strategy in accordance with the 1992 Adequate Public Facilities Act.

In recent weeks, the county's managed-growth concerns have led the Rouse Co. to scale back development plans for North Laurel. The number of residential units was reduced from 1,395 to 1,201. A smaller development is also being planned for nearby Scaggsville.

Mr. Ecker is guessing that when most of this home construction is completed, the need for a new high school in the county's west end will have dissipated. Rezoning students might suffice to ease school crowding, he believes.

But that's a big "if." The quality of instruction at some Howard County schools is already challenged because they have too many students. Adding so many more students instead of building a new high school is likely to exacerbate existing problems.

Pub Date: 5/11/98

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