Superintendent John O'Rourke, who left a small school district in New York for a much larger one in Howard County, spent his first school board meeting last night listening to pleas for relief from crowded classrooms in a system that is growing even bigger.
At a public hearing on the capital budget for the 2001-2002 school year and a planning budget for the following five years, parents and community members detailed for O'Rourke and the five-member board how crowded the county's schools are becoming.
Although construction of the district's 11th high school won't begin until next year, many parents began last night asking for a 12th.
One Mount Hebron High School parent said that she recently learned that the school is projected to be more than 270 students over capacity in the 2001-2002 school year, eventually growing to more than 700 students over capacity by 2010.
This year, Mount Hebron's capacity was 1,448 students.
"Next I learned that other county high schools in our general area - Glenelg, Howard, River Hill and Long Reach - will be over capacity and that the new Fulton/Reservoir High School will only temporarily provide relief," said Janet Gilbert of Ellicott City.
"A new 12th high school is not a knee-jerk reaction to this high school-overcrowding alert. We can count on new homes cropping up in our section of the county. The student body will continue to grow," she said.
Ellicott City parent Courtney Watson agreed that a 12th high school is needed now because the new one probably will be crowded soon after it opens.
"In researching this issue, I learned that our current 2005 projections show more students over capacity than did our projections for 2002 when Reservoir High School was first placed in the capital budget," Watson said.
Parents from Rockburn Elementary School - one of the county's largest -came out last night to ask that an addition be built to relieve crowding there.
"This year, Rockburn's population was 11 percent higher than what was predicted by the Department of Education," said Nancy Williams of Ellicott City. "It is not inconceivable that the department's growth projections could be off by at least 5 percent in future years."
Last night, the board dealt with another growth issue as it voted, as expected, to build a wastewater treatment plant at Glenelg High School. The plant will replace the school's failing septic system and allow the district to gain a permit to begin building a 400-seat addition.
This week, the board received a letter from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, stating that it was "vigorously opposed" to a wastewater treatment plant at Glenelg that would discharge treated water into any of the reservoirs which provide water for more than 700,000 area residents.
The school's plan would discharge into the Triadelphia Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to thousands of WSSC customers.
The board said it would cooperate with the commission to alleviate its concerns, but hoped to get started as soon as possible.
"Time is an issue," Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said. "This project has already been deferred one year. And until we get a building permit, that completion date will continue to be uncertain."