Back to School: (originally published Sept. 2 – reposting unedited to clarify my views on education)
As Howard County students head back to school, several education issues must be addressed if we are to ensure a bright future for our children.
Some have cautioned me to not speak about the issue—that education lies beyond the scope of the County Council, but I disagree. Education is everyone’s business. The County Council actually can have a clear and direct impact on education through its Comprehensive Rezoning role (designating land/approving new neighborhoods). The County Council also has final approval of the Board of Education budget. It is through these levers that the County Council helps craft the overall educational environment.
The Council’s Comprehensive Rezoning authority primarily affects education by the amount of new neighborhoods and development projects. Too many new developments in too short of a time lead to overcrowding.
In the eastern half of Howard County, schools are near 100% capacity. Some schools have entire grades in portable classrooms. Class sizes are growing larger and larger. Teacher time is being stretched thinner and thinner. It only takes a brief visit during the school day to see that the buildings themselves are beyond their intended capacity. If the Howard County population continues to grow at current levels without investment in new infrastructure and new schools, our schools will be dangerously overcrowded. Projected costs for new and expanded schools are estimated to be over $214 million, and those simply address the known, current needs of the county.
In order to be prepared, I have made exercising fiscal discipline in order to achieve educational empowerment a central focus of my campaign. Continued unchecked growth (e.g. a status quo in which the County Council approves 98% of development proposals) will put new schools beyond capacity before we even finish building them. We do not need more of the same when it comes to the intersection of development and education. We need a new understanding of these issues—one that allows us to plan better and subsequently grow.
This is not an abstract concern; new developments that will stretch educational resources for all of our children are being constructed here in District 1.
Every day, many of you drive by the newly clear-cut swath of land on Old Annapolis Road, where a new development, consisting of 95 houses, is being built. These houses are zoned for the Centennial Schools, which are already over capacity. Centennial Lane Elementary School has a capacity of 628, and current enrollment is 699. All but one of the fifth grade classes are in portable classrooms.
So how would such a large development get approved when there’s no room for new kids at their zoned school? That’s the sign of a County Council under undue developer influence (and the subject of another blog post).