Education, Opinion, Politics

Councilman Marks: Pass the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance now

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For much of my life, I have worked to reduce school overcrowding throughout Baltimore County. I’ve also attended overcrowded public schools, and my children have had to learn in classrooms that—despite the best efforts of educators—struggle with this challenge.

School overcrowding has been a problem in Baltimore County for decades; this isn’t new. Development is certainly a factor, but so are demographic issues. We have problems at schools such as Harford Hills Elementary (23 percent above its capacity) and Pine Grove Elementary (12 percent overcrowded) where there is turnover from older residents. Growth, however, does play a significant role.

It is time for the Baltimore County Council to enact long-overdue solutions. That is why I sponsored a resolution that created a task force to review the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, which regulates development in school districts. The APFO Task Force generated thoughtful recommendations that form the backbone of legislation now before the County Council. The bill is sponsored by Councilman Izzy Patoka, chair of the County Council.

The legislation has several important elements, all of which reflect the recommendations of the task force we created to look at overcrowding. The bill shifts the timing of the school capacity adequacy test so that it occurs prior to the issuing of a building permit. It adjusts the definition of an overcrowded school district from 115 to 100 percent of State Rated Capacity. The bill eliminates the “adjacent district” exception that has allowed development to proceed if there is a capacity in another school zone. The legislation also creates an intergovernmental committee to address school overcrowding, to be staffed by the Department of Planning.

At two work sessions, the Baltimore County Council heard extensive testimony both for and against the legislation—and I appreciate all viewpoints. Homebuilders correctly note that the Board of Education has failed to regularly redistrict schools. They also accurately note that Baltimore County must embrace policies that expand our tax base. I will support amendments that address concerns raised by homebuilders that have made constructive suggestions.

At the same time, I believe there are structural issues that must be addressed to reduce school overcrowding. My colleagues agree. At the work sessions for this legislation, we heard from state legislators such as Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki, both of whom have also heard from community leaders and parents.

It is time to pass a reformed Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

  • Councilman David Marks
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