Overcrowding in Harford; Schools: Board got an angry response from parents that officials who control the budget should hear.


AFTER DRAWING barely enough parents to fill a broom closet at its last meeting on school crowding, a frustrated Board of Education in Harford County exhorted residents to give it more feedback on how to solve the problem.

The board got part of its answer Monday night: 200 people turned out to decry redistricting as an option. The board anticipated the reaction, but seemed unnerved by its fervor. The most eloquent objection came from a member of the board, student representative Catherine L. Brodo. Growing up in a transient military family, the Aberdeen High senior said she sympathizes with those who fear boundary changes that could sever community and school ties.

The question remains: How does Harford solve crowding in some schools, and how did it get in this pickle? Unfortunately, previous officials who anticipated growth didn't plan to accommodate it. With only one middle or high school built in the past 20 years, Harford has more secondary students per middle school than any Baltimore-area jurisdiction (and the second highest ratio of students per elementary school).

The school board is in the unenviable position of trying to "put out a forest fire with a squirt gun," as one parent noted, because it lacks budget control. The elected officials who do possess that authority may need to consider building schools with county funds and then seeking state reimbursement afterward, as some counties have done.

The concerns Harford parents voiced can be heard elsewhere in the region: They echo in Howard County in a debate over uneven school resources. And in Anne Arundel, the Catholic archdiocese just unveiled plans for a new elementary school in response to demand for alternatives to public education. Vouchers or not, families have choices. Harford County officials shouldn't ignore the complaints they heard.

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