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.