Capital Editorial: “City can’t keep ignoring school capacity”

Capital Gazette: Editorial Board, May 1, 2016

By: Capital Gazette Editorial Board

The key point made by Aldermen Jared Littmann and Ross Arnett in a column on this page last week is hard to argue: Even if the city doesn’t control school construction, it can’t leave school capacity out of its planning decisions. You can’t look at the crowding — and trailer-classrooms — at places like Hillsmere, Germantown and Tyler Heights elementary schools or, for that matter, at Annapolis High School and reach any other conclusion.

Arnett and Littmann have been pushing the city to add school capacity to its Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, which currently, at least in theory, shuts down development if sufficient resources aren’t on hand for police protection or water and sewer service. They’ve found the exercise a bit like punching a feather pillow. The problem isn’t so much outright opposition — although there’s some of that, from developers and others — as different opinions about how far to go, how to coordinate with the county and which projects in the pipeline to grandfather in.

In any case, a joint work group of city, county, education and business officials has been studying the issue since February, and the City Council does not want to act before that panel reports. Last week the council voted 5-3, with one abstention, to postpone consideration of Littmann and Arnett’s bill.

Littman, predictably, was unhappy. The work group will need until about July. After that the County Council may well want to redraft the county law, the model for the one the two aldermen have drawn up, and the city will feel obligated to wait for that. By the time the City Council returns to the issue, next year’s city elections may be looming.

A new law can always be adjusted if it encounters implementation problems. Littmann would have preferred an up-or-down vote now. That may be precisely what some of his colleagues don’t want.

Working with the county on this is vital, as county officials may not feel obligated to boost funding to city schools just because of a city decision to expand adequate facilities rules and, say, shut down development for six years. The city has made development decisions without consulting them — they may return the favor.
And there’s another point to keep in mind, made by a story on today’s front page. Even if you stretch the numbers by counting such people as fire marshals and the public works director — legal perhaps, but hardly what the law’s drafters had in mind — the city appears to be violating its adequate public facilities law already by allowing development without quite enough police officers on hand.

New rules on school capacity won’t mean much unless the city has the will to uphold them, rather than just the ingenuity to find ways to skirt them.

It is irresponsible for the city to leave schools out of the mix when it approves developments. If city officials can’t come to grips with this in one way or another before next year’s election, that’s something the voters ought to judge them on.

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