Baltimore County consultant considering school facility conditions in possible plans to combat overcrowding

After meeting with stakeholders in July, Sage Policy Group, hired by Baltimore County Public Schools to come up with solutions to staunch overcrowding in county high schools, has trimmed from seven to three the number of scenarios, as well as taken into account facility conditions.

“We went back to drawing board and looked at what people said they wanted and didn’t want,” Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group, said.

Basu and his firm are presenting the three revised proposals that take both both capacity and conditions into account at a series of public input meetings, during which the public has a chance to learn more about the scenarios. The first meeting was held Sept. 18 at New Town High. A second meeting will be held at Eastern Technical High School at 7 p.m. Sept. 24; and a third at Loch Raven High School at 7 p.m. Oct. 2. All three scenarios are posted on the school system website.

During the July 12 public information session, Sage Policy Group presented seven options to solving overcrowding through 2027 in Baltimore County high schools.

The county is predicted to have a 1,700-seat shortfall in the next decade, according to Sage. With no intervention, Towson High School will be the most overcrowded – the building intended for 1,260 students will have 749 more students than seats by 2027. Catonsville High is projected to be overcrowded by nearly 500 students.

Lansdowne and Dulaney high schools are only projected to be overcrowded by less than 100 students each – but the buildings are showing their age, and parents and community members told Sage in July they wanted proposals that focused on fixing not just capacity issues, but also facility conditions.

In response, Sage Policy Group tweaked their contract: Their task now is to study solutions not just to overcrowding, but also to poor facility conditions, Basu said.

Basu said the public input sessions, as well as a 3,300-respondent survey, showed clearly what Baltimore County residents want to see in a system-wide solution.

“They don’t want massive high schools,” Basu said. “They don’t want redistricting. They don’t mind spending money on improving both the capacity and conditions of certain schools … They liked the notion of magnet programs and would like to see more equitable access across the county.”

“It’s high stakes, there’s a lot of emotion involved,” Basu said. “We tried to weed out emotion and go back to the numbers.”

Basu said Sage Policy Group used that information to whittle down its seven initial proposals to create three scenarios that align with those preferences.

The new scenarios, all posted on the Baltimore County Public Schools website, cost between $590 million and $628 million – far more on average than the initial seven scenarios, which cost between $275M and $617M.

Those higher costs line up with the findings of an online survey Sage and the school system conducted, which found only 2.3 percent of respondents want the county to prioritize cost when planning capital projects.

“This is not a parsimonious bunch of stakeholders,” Basu said, saying county residents told Sage Policy Group they would be willing to pay higher taxes for better quality facilities and less overcrowded schools.

Those higher costs would bring a new building for Towson High in all three scenarios. Dulaney High and Lansdowne High would get new buildings in two of the three proposals.

Basu said Dulaney High would not be considered for a new school in two of the three scenarios if not for the shift to focusing on conditions as well as capacity, as the district is not projected to be significantly overcrowded.

All of the scenarios also include redistricting – but Basu cautioned that he cannot predict the exact results of a boundary change, which is a political process.

Community members can provide feedback at upcoming public input meetings or can fill out an online survey until Oct. 7.

Scenario A: Magnet programs and lowest cost

In Scenario A, 652 magnet seats would help ease the burden on overcrowded schools, for a slightly lower cost than the other two scenarios at $590 million.

This option would renovate Lansdowne and Dulaney high schools, while building new Towson and Loch Raven high schools and the Western School of Technology, a southwest-area magnet school.

The proposal relies heavily on moving students, either by boundary changes or by increasing enrollment in magnet schools. Nearly 2,000 students across the county would relocate under the plan.

Scenario B: Highest cost and fewest affected schools

Scenario B prioritizes building in order to curb overcrowding. It would impact the fewest number of schools with redistricting, but at $628 million is the most expensive proposal on the list.

Dulaney, Loch Raven, Towson and Lansdowne high schools and the Western School of Technology would all receive new buildings.

Nearly 1,900 students would be redistricted under this plan, largely in the northeast, southwest and southeast parts of the county. Dulaney High School would not be affected by redistricting.

The Carver Center for Arts and Technology would also receive an addition to increase capacity under this plan.

Scenario C: Fewer projects, fewer students moved

Scenario C would affect 1,820 students with boundary changes, the lowest number on the list, at a cost of $605 million. The proposal does not increase the number of magnet seats.

It would bring new Lansdowne, Dulaney, Loch Raven, Towson and Sparrows Point high schools. Dundalk High School would be renovated.

asolomon@baltsun.com

twitter.com/libsolomon

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
32°