Urbana Elementary School construction (copy)

Earth-moving equipment at the Urbana Elementary School site begins construction in April on the new Urbana Elementary School.

Enrollment at Frederick County Public Schools is projected to increase by 4,250 students by 2028, with the largest increases expected to come in the elementary and high school levels, according to an analysis of the school system’s facilities.

The projected growth between 2018 and 2028 is relatively in line with most other recent decades, with the exception of much higher growth in the 1990s, county Planning Director Jim Gugel told the Frederick County Planning Commission this week.

The commission voted 6-1 to find that the FCPS superintendent’s proposed Educational Facility Master Plan was consistent with the county’s master plan, with Commissioner Joel Rensberger opposed.

The county’s enrollment increased by 3,417 students in the 1980s, by 10,086 students in the 1990s and 3,275 students in the 2000s, according to a county staff report on the plan.

The latest projections include about 1,600 new students at the elementary level, 600 at the middle school level and about 1,900 at the high school level.

The report’s recommended capacity and modernization projects include the new Urbana Elementary School expected to open in August 2020; the newly named Blue Heron Elementary School in the Lake Linganore area expected to open in August 2021; and a new Brunswick area elementary school projected to open in 2023.

The county has two possible sites for the Brunswick school, with one in the Galyn Manor development and another in the Brunswick Crossing neighborhood, Gugel said.

One of the longer discussions on the topic involved the idea of redistricting and how it can be used to help balance school enrollments.

Rensberger noted that the school system’s report said that redistricting happens mostly when new schools are opened, but is also used when adjoining schools have unbalanced enrollments on either current or projected growth and school crowding.

He asked why Catoctin High School, which has projected enrollment of less than 75 percent of its capacity, isn’t on a list of schools for possible redistricting studies to be done.

Holly Nelson, a facility planner with FCPS, said they try to limit redistricting studies as much as possible because they’re often expensive, emotional and disruptive for students and parents.

The school system also tries not to have students on a bus for more than an hour to get to and from school, she said, and busing other students into the Catoctin district would likely take longer.

Rensberger asked whether the projections were really consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan, if the plan shows little expected growth in the northern part of the county and the facilities report doesn’t address the issue of under-capacity schools.

In such a large county, it’s hard to have the proximity to make use of all the school system’s buildings, Gugel said.

“Are you going to have somebody from New Market bused all the way up to Thurmont every day?” he said.

But not using buildings more evenly raises the cost of education in the county, Rensberger said.

“The most affordable schools are the ones that already exist. And if we don’t use them to their capacity, then we are increasing the costs and the burdens on the rest of the residents,” he said.

Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter: @RMarshallFNP.

Ryan Marshall is the transportation and growth and development reporter for the News-Post. He can be reached at rmarshall@newspost.com.

(7) comments

MikeG

FCPS should make it a priority to build/update/expand every school (where necessary) BEFORE population rises. The fact we have portables upon portables in our schools is a shame and a disservice to our teachers and students. It's a basic math equation. Great example is Yellow Springs elementary - I'm sure there's many other examples. Built in the middle of last century, it was a small rural country school. Now 500 students deep, fed by all clover hill neighborhoods. We couldn't have built a brand new school, double the original, triple the original? Great teachers but the fact there's students in all these make shift portable buildings who have to leave, enter the main building to use the bathrooms, get medications, etc.? We figured out a way I build the school in the 1950s with the tax revenue, now with today's tax revenue, we should be swinging the hammer in preparation for the population the upcoming 50-100 years, not adding in portables, make shift building structures, and 30 students per teacher/classroom. Figure it out.

mrnatural1

Good comment MikeG.

Something that is rarely, if ever, mentioned is the risk we are taking with students' lives by packing them into trailers and forcing them to walk back and forth between them and the main building.

On the one hand we have NSA level security at our main school buildings, but then OTOH we have kids walking back and forth to flimsy, euphemistically named "portables".

Why is that? Here's one possibility -- growth is not paying for itself. As you suggest, the schools and other infrastructure should be constructed ahead of time, before they are needed, not after -- in perpetual catch-up mode.

FredCo has been beyond capacity for decades, but if we are to pack even more people in and further reduce our quality of life, at the very least developers should be REQUIRED to build ALL needed infrastructure first.

MD1756

The problem is those having children are part of the problem but don't seem to realize it. When I die or move, my single family home will probably be bought by someone who will have 2+ children, so even without building more homes in my case, the burden on the county/state will increase.

Thewheelone

[thumbup][thumbup] mrnatural1!!

MD1756

Maybe the politicians were ones who graduated public schools without deserving it since they seem to fail the basic concepts of growing population requires growing infrastructure.

MD1756

Those who have no children can expect to be taxed more for the increase in enrollment in addition to the state recommending more be spent on education while schools continue to graduate those who miss large numbers of classes and can't do the basic skills at a level they should when they graduate. I wish the state and local governments would change the tax codes so that parents pay at least the same to educate their children as people without children have to pay instead of paying less. Having children is a want not a need. I'd rather more of my tax money went to addressing human health and environmental issues, not making it easier for people to contribute more to climate change.

mrnatural1

Well said MD1756.

I would add that:

a) Parents should pay according to their ability. Subsidized education should be means-tested. There is no reason why a couple pulling in a solid 6-figure income cannot pay all -- or at least most -- of the cost of their children's education, and reduce the burden on the rest of us who make a fraction of what they do. As you said, there is no reason why those of us without kids -- especially those with a low income -- should be paying for a well-off couple's kids to go to school.

b) My wife and I have no kids. Our income is limited to my modest pension. Needless to say, property taxes are assessed without regard to income. I'm sure there are many people who fall into our category -- they own property worth a few hundred thousand dollars but for whatever reason (often retirement) do not have a large income. Our property taxes alone come to over 12% of our income, and about half of that goes to FCPS. I don't mind paying for public education, but the amount should be calculated in a fair and moral manner. I'd like to know what percentage of income other FredCo citizens pay -- especially those with kids in school.

c) Are developers going to pay for these multi-million dollar schools, or are existing residents' property taxes going to increase (again) to cover the cost? We should not have to subsidize growth we do not want in the first place.

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