school building under construction

Communities Must Work Together As High School Capital Plan Develops

by Corey Johns.

High school overcrowding issues are not a new topic of conversation in Baltimore County. In fact, it’s been going on way too long. The biggest hurdle in attempts to address the issues has been the way communities are going against each other in attempts to get the first capital project—and all it has done has made everything grind to a halt.

It is not an enviable task County Executive Johnny Olszewski, the County Council and the Board of Education have ahead of them as they work to create a capital plan to address high school overcrowding. The County Executive’s recent budget proposal has already set the first point on the planning map, a quite obvious starting point of Lansdowne High School, but the rest of the planning will be a much tougher challenge.

On March 19 the Board of Education meeting featured a lengthy discussion of the SAGE Policy Group report on High School overcrowding that took over a year to create after three phases of town hall meetings taking place all throughout the county.

It is understood that many areas of the county need new high schools, as well as plans to help alleviate growing student bodies at the elementary and middle school levels. The current budget proposal has many capital projects to help elementary and middle school overcrowding issues. However, the high school problem is crucial to address immediately as it is projected that by 2022 there will be more high school students than total seats available throughout the county. Changing school boundaries may be a temporary relief, but by 2022 that is not even a viable solution.

The County Executive’s recent budget proposal has made getting a new Lansdowne High School in southwest Baltimore County a priority. Getting a new Lansdowne High School was the SAGE Policy Group‘s top recommendation as it has the lowest facility grade in the county with a priority overcrowding challenge. A new Lansdowne High School would also help the severely overcrowded Catonsville High School by changing the school boundaries.

The second project recommended by the report findings was a new Towson High School, which is the most overcrowded school in the county, with the worst facility grade in the Central Area (including Hereford, Dulaney, Loch Raven, and the G.W. Carver Center magnet school). A new Towson High School would be a self-sustaining project that would not help issues at Loch Raven or Dulaney, but the district itself has severe needs.

After those two recommendations, which again, are only recommendations and are up to the county government and board of education to prioritize in their plans, the Group said there are plenty of other problems, including a growing population in the Northeast leading to overcrowding at Perry Hall and Parkville High Schools, overcrowding in Pikesville and well-known facility issues at Dulaney High School. Sparrows Point is also one of the most overcrowded schools in the county, and being on a peninsula makes redistricting impossible. Sparrows Point High School also shares its building with a middle school, which is far from ideal in any way.

All of these issues are well known and all of them will be taken care of in capital planning. It is crucial that communities do not get pitted against each other in the process.

It is a tremendous start that Johnny O has set a starting point at Lansdowne High School. Finally, it appears the process has started. Patience has to be a virtue throughout it. It is not going to be a matter of one area getting something that prevents another area from getting something, it is a matter of which areas gets what they need first because those areas have the most critical needs.

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