For decades the city has thumbed its nose at the county and allowed new residential development to add more students to overcapacity schools. Developers have blocked all attempts to pass a law parallel to the county’s that would prevent such developments from being approved for six years or until the school overcrowding is resolved.
The result: Tyler Heights Elementary has 13 trailers for classrooms; Hillsmere has six and Annapolis High has eight. In the county, any new developments are prohibited that would add students to these schools — but not in the city.
Ordinance O-36-15 was introduced in July 2015 to add school overcrowding to the City’s Adequate Public Facilities law. As introduced and debated for most of the last year the Ordinance would have adopted the County’s standards and approach to help alleviate further overcrowding of over-capacity schools from new development projects in the city. Opposition from developers has continued to delay passage of this sensible legislation for the last year. A joint work group was appointed to examine the issue while the city allowed a bad situation to get worse, threatening the quality of our children’s education.
Now the ordinance has the votes to pass, but only because the proposal has been gutted by amendments and rendered all but meaningless. Instead of stopping development when schools are at 100 percent capacity (as the County has for decades), the City would require elementary schools to reach 110 percent of capacity and Annapolis High to be at 120 percent of capacity. This conveniently allows city developments, including the 130 non-age restricted homes at Crystal Spring, to proceed unimpeded, as only Tyler Heights would be covered, and then only until 2020, when a planned addition or new school is completed. Ironically, the work group discussed raising the capacity threshold, but unanimously rejected the idea.
City leaders have said that the amended City Ordinance would still be effective with these amendments as it uses projections that are three years out and includes future planned developments, which they say is different from the County’s use of only the next school year’s enrollment. This is simply not correct. The County does the same with required three year projections and always has under its AFO. That’s why O-36-15 uses the three year projections—it’s in the county law.
If the ordinance is passed with these higher capacity thresholds, even with three year projections which the County requires, it would not have any effect on future City developments at least for 10 years out and perhaps longer. A 110 percent capacity threshold raises Hillsmere’s enrollment to 560 from its state rated capacity and Hillsmere will not exceed that for at least a deacade. The higher thresholds will have the same effects for Germantown and Annapolis High.
The amendments to O-36-15 also raise the number of units triggering an AFO school assessment to 11 from the original five units specified in the county law.
The Ordinance O-36-15 is scheduled to come before the Council for a second reading on Monday, July 25. We urge them to reject these amendments and pass an Ordinance that is in line with the County’s. Worse than taking no action at all, would be to pass a meaningless APFO that will do little to address school overcrowding. O-36-15, as gutted by amendments, is meaningless and green lights the status quo except for a few years with Tyler Heights.