Report Shows Adequate School Capacity, In All the Wrong Areas

By Andrea Shiell, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Jan. 31, 2008)—The Department of Land Use and Growth Management released their annual report on school capacity to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, and the calculations they have released show negative school capacities in the northern service areas of the county, and a limited capacity in the central service areas.

The report concludes that the northern service area of the county is closed to new subdivisions due to inadequate school capacity. Within the central service area there are fewer than 11 seats available at the high school level, which limits the number of lots that can be approved for development to 69. The southern service area is also limited to 139 available seats at the high school level, as indicated by the report.

These numbers do not quite conform to the tables attached to the report, which outline State Rated Capacity (SRC). State Rated Capacity is defined in the Board of Education’s July 2006 Educational Facilities Master Plan as “the maximum number of students that can be reasonably accommodated in a facility without significantly hampering delivery of the education program.”

In the report are figures showing an available student capacity of 226 seats in the northern service area at the middle school level, and 302 seats at the high school level. Figures for the central service area show 734 available seats at the elementary level, 76 at the middle school level, and 10 at the high school level. The southern service area shows 400 available seats at the elementary school level, 177 at the middle school level, and 189 at the high school level, giving it the most wiggle room for development among the three areas.

Capacity as defined by the state does not factor in mobile units, which many of the commissioners viewed as a shortfall. But Commissioner Jack Russell commented on the county’s need to maintain smaller class sizes. To qualify for state funded construction, a school must exceed 50 percent of its SRC. “One of the things we always hear is kids in learning shacks,” said Russell, “But in order to get money for new schools, 50 percent of the students have to be in mobile units.”

Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe said, “What would you rather have? A class of 35 students in a classroom or a class of 20 students in a trailer?”

The capacity figures may change depending on funding for Capital Improvements. Potential capacity is factored when 100 percent of design funding for new schools are included in the county’s Capital Improvements Program, and the land has been acquired. While one elementary school is currently being built, there are two other schools that are still in the planning stages.

The report lists other factors that may change each area’s capacity status, including changes in service area boundaries, mitigation (which is currently prohibited according to the Zoning Ordinance), or consolidation of the three service areas. Another way these figures could change is if legislation is considered increasing the Available Student Capacity, which currently sits at 107 percent of the state’s figure.

The Board of County Commissioners voted to accept the report while anticipating a continued growth rate of 2 percent per year.

As everyone in the room took in the onslaught of numbers during the presentation of the report, Russell commented that building proposals have been backing up considerably, and that the calculations, if properly explained, could help clarify the department’s decision making. “It’s clearer than mud,” Russell said, smiling.

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