Parents say facilities ordinance has not stopped school crowding; Councilman urged to strengthen limit on construction


Parents of pupils at three elementary schools in Ellicott City and Elkridge said last night that the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance has not prevented school crowding and has forced the redistricting of their children.

More than two dozen parents who have children in the Ilchester, Rockburn and Worthington elementary schools urged County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon to strengthen the 1992 ordinance, which bars home construction around schools that have enrollments more than 20 percent over capacity.

"The APFO should ensure that new home developments are not approved unless space is available in the local school," said Courtney Watson, a mother of three children at Ilchester.

"The weaknesses in the APFO are the main causes for frequent redistricting and overcrowded schools," said Watson, who organized the meeting with Merdon in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Watson pointed out that plans for hundreds of homes are awaiting approval by the Department of Planning and Zoning.

"I don't know if we necessarily need an overhaul, but [the law] definitely needs a tweaking," Merdon told the parents. "Education is, has been and always will be Howard County's top priority."

The freshman Republican's district includes Ellicott City and parts of Elkridge.

Officials predict that Ilchester, Rockburn and Worthington elementary schools will be operating above capacity in 2002. Ilchester is projected to be 24 percent over capacity, Rockburn 15 percent and Worthington 10 percent.

Karen Vaughan, parent of a fifth-grader at Rockburn, said crowding has caused the elimination of extracurricular activities such as indoor soccer, chess and the third-grade chorus.

Maurice Kalin, associate superintendent of schools, who was at the meeting, said the elementary school population is expected to peak in 2003 and then decrease about 1,300 pupils annually thereafter.

"We're not going to build any more new elementary schools in the northeast if we can help it," Kalin said.

The parents urged Merdon to strengthen the adequate facilities ordinance by lowering the 20 percent requirement to 5 percent and limiting redistricting to once every six years for a neighborhood.

Merdon and fellow freshman council members Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican, and Guy Guzzone, a Democrat, campaigned for managed growth. Merdon said he is open to revising the ordinance.

"We thought, like a lot of you, that the [20] percent cap is too high," Merdon told the group. "We're certainly going to take a look at that."

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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