School seat allocation changes progressing

Officials seek solution to crowding by 2013

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A policy that would require enrollment numbers at every Charles County public school to be within the capacity limits set by the state by 2013 saw a glimmer of light for moving forward.

The county commissioners discussed and worked out their concerns with the proposed changed to the adequate public facilities ordinance last week.

‘‘Let’s bring this to the agenda next week and try and bring some closure,” said commissioners’ President F. Wayne Cooper (D), about giving the commissioners time to absorb what was discussed before moving forward by setting a date for a public hearing and then voting on the ordinance.

The revised ordinance is both the county commissioners’ and school board’s attempt to get control of the crowded schools, as 23 of the 34 county schools are over capacity limits and 23 percent of the county’s students are being taught in the school system’s 229 trailers.

A committee comprised of school board members Roberta ‘‘Bobbie” Wise, Collins A. Bailey and Maura H. Cook and commissioners Gary V. Hodge (D) and Reuben B. Collins II (D), came up with a list of recommendations in June 2007 to reduce the number of students entering the system every year.

For the current school year, only 76 new students entered the school system. But in previous years the influx of students was much greater, with 793 new students entering the school system for the 2002-03 school year.

One recommendation would require the smaller residential developers, who build one, two or three homes at a time, to get a school seat allocation before they could get a building permit, just like the big firms do.

The commissioners decided they did not want to move forward with that recommendation, fearing it would hurt small businesses in the county.

‘‘You’re talking about needing a lot of money to build a home,” said Cooper, about the burden such a policy would put on the small businesses.

The commissioners, for the most part, all agreed with moving forward with the other recommendations — which include not issuing a building permit for a new home until nine months before a new school in that area opens; only providing a school seat to a developer when there is capacity at the elementary, middle and high school levels; studying the impact senior living communities have on enrollment; and reducing the number of allocations so that schools will be at state-rated capacity.

Commissioner Edith J. Patterson (D) said the only recommendation that she would not vote in favor of is providing school seats only when there is capacity at all three school levels that student will attend.

Allocations through APFO are just a small piece of the puzzle that contributes to how students funnel into the schools. Separate from APFO, up to 900 allocations are up for grabs at a cost of $15,000 a dwelling through Developers Rights and Responsibilities Agreements. St. Charles and the towns of La Plata and Indian Head have their own methods for awarding developers residential building permits, with La Plata’s maximum allocations set at 100 a year.

Also, there are currently 3,000 lots on record in the county that have received their allocations.

If a new APFO is passed, there will be 501 school seat allocations available for 2008, 433 in 2009, 203 in each 2010 and 2011. The amount of allocations available for 2012 is predicated on the next high school opening. If the measure is passed, every school in the county will have enrollment at or below state-rated capacity limits by 2013.

‘‘What we are trying to do is get rid of trailers,” Cooper said.