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Board seeks to offer more data on schools


The Carroll County school board decided yesterday to try to provide a fuller and more accurate picture of school capacity to county and municipal decision-makers who manage the ebb and flow of residential development.

Four board members asked Superintendent Charles I. Ecker to develop a policy that would give county and town officials more information - and more analyzed information - each time the school system's facilities department evaluates whether a school can accommodate additional children from a proposed housing development.

County and municipal ordinances require the school system to make such an assessment for each residential subdivision proposed in Carroll.

School board member Susan Holt abstained from the vote, saying she needed more information before making a decision.

"The information I think the school board should provide would enable those entities to have an accurate and full picture of current and projected student enrollments," board member C. Scott Stone said after yesterday's board meeting. "I think it's appropriate for the school system ... to define what the board views to be adequate, approaching inadequate and inadequate school capacities."

Until 1998, as part of the development review process, school officials had to fill out a form indicating whether a school's capacity was "adequate," which they defined as up to 100 percent of its capacity; "approaching inadequate," which they designated as 101 percent to 105 percent of capacity; or "inadequate," which meant the school was at 106 percent or more of capacity.

The county's concurrency management ordinance changed that. Since 1998, school officials have assessed only whether enrollment at a school is projected to be under 120 percent of capacity for at least six years. If it is not, school officials must indicate whether a school is scheduled to open within six years that would relieve crowding at the over-capacity school.

None of the school system's assessments have been binding. County and municipal officials can take into account or disregard the school system's warnings that proceeding with a development could cause crowding.

"Ultimately, we don't issue permits, we don't set the limits on growth, we don't approve or disapprove subdivisions," Edmund J. O'Meally, the school board's attorney, told the board during yesterday's meeting. "We educate all the kids, and our job is to provide the numbers" on school capacity.

Managing growth through the county's and towns' regulations and evaluating the adequacy of infrastructure, such as roads, water and schools, has always been nebulous, much-debated and often-criticized.

But the school board was taken to task in earnest in November 1998 at a meeting in Town Hall.

"They were accused of not stopping growth, of certifying that a facility was able to handle additional growth and providing inaccurate enrollment projections," Stephen Guthrie, the school system's assistant superintendent of administration, said in an interview.

"That's not what happened. All we did was fill out a form saying the schools weren't at 120 percent, as in, 'Here's the enrollment, here's the projection, and here's the capacity.'"

School board members expressed interest yesterday in returning to a tier of assessments - similar to the adequate, approaching inadequate and inadequate categories used until 1998 - that would give town and county planners a better idea of whether a school is crowded and enrollment projections.

Ecker is expected to offer the new policy for the board's consideration at its meeting Sept. 25.

"I have no false illusions that the municipalities and county are going to take our recommendations as gospel," Stone told his colleagues yesterday.

That is acceptable, he said later in an interview. "At least they'd have another point of data for their consideration," Stone said.

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