Lowering threshold on building ban to be considered at meeting; School district official says limits may 'close down county to growth'


The Adequate Public Facilities Committee will meet tonight to hear recommendations from county and school officials regarding the county's law regulating home construction based on crowding in county schools and on roads.

The 15-member committee has suggested lowering the overcrowding threshold that triggers a building ban from 120 percent to 115 percent of elementary school capacity. The ban's intent is to limit the number of homes built near crowded schools.

Several County Council members, including Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon, say they'd like to examine the possibility of lowering the crowding threshold further, to 110 percent capacity.

But Howard County school district Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin said he plans to remind the committee that, by reducing class sizes to a ratio of 19 students per teacher, the district already has lowered school capacity by about 12 to 13 percent.

Capacity is defined by the student/teacher ratio multiplied by the number of classrooms in a building, he said.

Reducing the county's cap from 120 percent to 115 percent may lower capacity more than the committee intended, Kalin said.

Looking ahead to the recommendation's possible effects, Kalin said, "I think a reduction of 16 percent may be high. We have to try to balance growth with capacity. We have to be sure that there's a revenue stream coming in to fund our operating budget. We can't simply close down the county to growth."

Some parents, however, think the cap should be lowered, because many schools still would be overcrowded after the class sizes are reduced.

"Even with the reduced capacity due to [the student/teacher ratio of] 19-to-1, we still need the same number of classrooms," said Courtney Watson of Ellicott City, who has children at Ilchester Elementary. "Crowding is not how many kids in a room. Crowding is how many classrooms can fit in the school."

Jerry Bialecki, who has children at Ilchester and at Elkridge Middle School, said many schools have to use office, resource and storage space creatively to squeeze in students.

"Is that an adequate facility?" Bialecki said. "Would you expect those types of conditions in a business? These are sacrifices that we're making to do our very best to see that we do have adequate building space.

"I believe we should lower [the cap]," Bialecki said. "And Kalin should know this."

Kalin said he agrees with the parents who want less crowding in schools, but said there's a subtle difference between his point and theirs. He still intends to urge the committee to consider the district's reduced class sizes.

"Sure, you have the same number of kids in the school," Kalin said. "But the capacity of the school is lowered, too. The committee will have to consider that. And I want the committee to have all the facts."

The Adequate Public Facilities Committee will meet at 7 tonight at the county's Gateway Building, 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive.

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