Saturday, April 19, 2014

Letter to the Editor: 3 commissioners wrong on school allocations

April 9, 2014
Southern Maryland Newspapers

I’m writing in reference to the April 2 article, “Commissioners OK school seat allocations,” which states the commissioners approved the January cycle school allocations, which could potentially allow only 32 new homes. On its face, this doesn’t sound too bad, so why such an issue regarding the granting of school allocations? Besides the fact that the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance committee final report to the commissioners is delayed as the article stated, there’s other information the article didn’t discuss.
There are roughly 1,132 previously granted school allocations pending countywide for houses that haven’t yet materialized, representing approximately 546 new students. Developers are sitting on these pending school allocations, supposedly waiting for improved housing market conditions to restart construction. Many of these allocations were granted many years ago and actually should’ve expired years ago if rules were being followed. However, commissioners have been granting extensions every year based on “precedent and current economic trends” as the resolution states and as requested by Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association.
Here’s the problem: 475 of the pending allocations are for projects now in overcrowded school zones. When originally granted, there apparently was capacity in schools for these allocations, but now there isn’t due to multiple school redistrictings and population growth.
Using September 2013 enrollment, our current school situation is that 14 of 21 elementary, three of eight middle and three of six high schools exceed state-rated capacity. Five elementary schools are over local core capacity, meaning that additional school seats in trailers aren’t even enough to hold all students, and four other elementary schools are close to reaching local core capacity. The Charles County Public Schools education facilities master plan projects that the situation will only get worse in coming years.
Maybe allocations shouldn’t be extended beyond their expiration dates. This potentially causes worse overcrowding situations than already exists. Planning for potential new students and building school capacity to match growth can be very difficult, especially when granted allocations aren’t acted on by developers for many years. When the housing market turns and developers redeem old allocations in the backlog, school enrollment will increase.
Obviously, the housing market governs when developers build. However, the commissioners shouldn’t perpetually grant time extensions for allocations. Everybody’s suffered in tough economic times, but why are certain groups receiving special treatment?
At recent school allocation meetings, the board of education expressed significant concerns over old pending allocations, asking the commissioners to defer approving additional allocations. The usual three commissioners ignored the best interests of our county’s students and approved allocations.
Parents, thank Charles County Commissioners Candice Kelly and Ken Robinson and the board of education for their support. It’s clear the other commissioners aren’t interested in what’s best for students, but rather consistently make uninformed decisions benefiting only one entity: developers.
The total disregard of school board advice by these three commissioners concerns me and should alarm every voting citizen. Our youngest residents and teachers are bearing the heavy burden of their decisions.

John Hayes, Waldorf
The writer is a parent member of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance committee.

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