- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
One-hundred sixty-five new houses can now be built in areas where public schools are already overcrowded, after the Charles County commissioners approved four developers rights and responsibilities agreements Tuesday.
The contracts allow developers to pay the county $13,600 per house to build in school districts lacking space for more students, money intended to finance school construction.
The votes on all four agreements were 4-1, with Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) in dissent. But Wednesday, commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) regretted her vote in favor and said she will try to change it.
The largest project by far belongs to Elm Street Development, which will build 152 houses in Bryans Road, adding a projected 74.4 students to the district of Henry E. Lackey High School in Indian Head, including 31.9 students to an elementary school and 16.7 to a middle school that are already over capacity.
The other three projects, in Charlotte Hall, Hughesville and Waldorf, total 13 houses and 6.5 projected students. Each project is projected to add, at least slightly, to enrollment at an overcrowded school. Altogether, the four deals will put more than $2.1 million, plus interest, in county coffers by the end of 2017.
At a public hearing last month, Kelly vowed to oppose the agreements to avoid further overcrowding schools. On Wednesday, she said she opted to approve the agreements “because it’s not fair to change the rules midstream.”
But the matter is not quite settled. Later Wednesday, Kelly changed course, saying she’d misunderstood a report by county staff. She plans to move for a reconsideration of the vote at the next board meeting in order to vote against the agreements, she said.
Her confusion stemmed from the staff report, which included two different ways of measuring school capacity, she said. The report emphasized “core” capacity, measured using a system devised by the county in 1999. But the commissioners have instructed staff to use “state-rated” capacity, defined by the Maryland State Department of Education, which is often much lower.
“It never occurred to me that that recommendation was based on core capacity because this board has been adamant, we voted, that we were going to use state-rated capacity. I cannot understand, for the life of me, why staff would have made these recommendations based on core capacity,” Kelly said.
Kelly changing her vote won’t change the outcome, but she had some hope she could shift at least one of her colleagues.
“This could have wound up being a 3-2 vote anyway, but perhaps because maybe some of the other commissioners weren’t quite clear that we did vote on [core] capacity,” she said.
The Charles County Board of Education is sure to hope Kelly prevails, as its seven members sent a letter to the Maryland Independent blasting the decision, criticizing the use of “core” capacity and praising Robinson for dissenting.
“The Board of Education is dismayed by actions of the Charles County Commissioners that deliberately allow overcrowding of schools” through agreements with developers, the school board wrote.
Some parents of public school children agree, including two who spoke at a meeting of the Charles County Board of Education on Tuesday evening.
John Hayes of Waldorf spoke of concerns with the “continuous redistricting of our children.”
Hayes’ child was transferred from Theodore G. Davis Middle School in Waldorf to Matthew Henson in Indian Head. Henson is already 56 students over state-rated capacity, and the development agreements, projected to add another 16.7 students to the school, will make things worse, Hayes said.
In written testimony to the school board, Hayes wrote that “parents in our [Bennsville corridor] community strongly feel that the recent redistricting by [the school board] succeeded only in moving the overcrowding situation from one educational environment to another. The overcrowding at Henson is worse than it was at Davis, especially given the small size of Henson. Decisions made by Charles County Commissioners will only add to the overcrowding problem.”
Rosemin Daya of Waldorf also expressed her concern with both the redistricting process and the commissioners’ decision.
Daya’s child also was sent from Davis to Henson, and while she found that the staff and administration at Henson were “amazing,” she was concerned about overcrowding. She said it is evident if one watches classroom changes that there are too many students in the school.
“Commissioners were told by school staff that there is room because of core capacity,” she said.
Such calculations are wrong, she said, and “something needs to be done.”
Commissioners Reuben B. Collins II (D), Debra M. Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) did not immediately return calls seeking comment.