Commissioners divided over school allocations -- Gazette.Net


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An attempt by Charles County commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly to put a temporary moratorium on developer rights and responsibilities agreements failed quickly Tuesday when three commissioners voted against it.

Following a presentation on the county’s DRRA program, Kelly (D) recommended the commissioners cease granting school allocations through DRRAs until a panel tasked with studying the process finishes its work later in the spring.

Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) voted with Kelly, but Commissioners Reuben B. Collins II (D), Debra M. Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) voted against the motion.

Collins expressed concerns over the legal ramifications of such a move, while Davis said she thought school overcrowding was due to more than DRRAs and Rucci objected to holding up developers who had already poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into their projects.

In Charles County, DRRAs have been used since 2005 to help fund new school construction, providing developers an avenue to build new homes in areas with overcrowded schools in exchange for payments toward increasing school capacity.

Recent proffers have been around $14,500 per home, said Jason Groth, chief of resource and infrastructure management at the Charles County Department of Planning and Growth Management.

The county has received payment on 1,396 school allocations through DRRAs since the program started, raising $22.7 million, Groth said. An additional 3,745 allocations have been pledged through 2025, which would raise another $45.6 million.

In total, the county has approved 32 projects using DRRAs, and nine projects totaling 517 allocations are currently pending.

In response to a question from Robinson, Groth acknowledged that the county has never denied a DRRA request, though several have been reworked before eventually being granted.

“The way the process is set up now, there’s this almost entitlement [or] expectation that anybody who wants a DRRA can come in and buy a school allocation,” Kelly said.

Included in the pending projects is one on the east side of Hamilton Road in Waldorf that has requested 170 allocations and would feed students into Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School, Mattawoman Middle School and Westlake High School, all of which are overcrowded.

The county also has collected excise taxes from homeowners since 2003 to help fund school construction.

Kelly said it was irresponsible to keep awarding allocations when the county’s schools are overcrowded. Groth confirmed that the school system is overcrowded but pointed out that it has lost 196 students since 2010.

Robinson called the logic underpinning the DRRA program “flawed” given that they’ve been handed out faster than the county can build new schools.

“You still have a generation of students who will be going through the system before any new school is gonna get built, because as we know, it takes a long time to build a school.”

jnewman@somdnews.com