- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

Officials in Harford County, Md., say efforts to prepare for the influx of residents from the military base-realignment program are being slowed because they don’t have good information about the newcomers, especially families with children.

What officials do know — based on a study funded by the U.S. Labor Department — is that the number of jobs coming to Harford is the most to any Maryland county.

Among their questions are: How many people will move to the county, where will they settle, how many children will they have and how much federal aid will the county receive when an estimated 12,700 more jobs are created at Aberdeen Proving Ground by roughly 2011.

“Here’s our problem,” said Donald R. Morrison, a spokesman for the county school board. “We know the [Base Realignment and Closure plan] is coming. The only things we don’t know are when, in what numbers and where they will settle.”

County school officials praise existing projects to create more class space but say most schools will be at or near capacity again when construction is completed, leaving little room for students brought by BRAC.

Projects to add 2,500 seats to county schools are scheduled to be completed by 2010.

“The new elementary school in the Bel Air area — we could open that tomorrow and it would be at 100 percent capacity,” said Mark Wolkow, president of the Harford County Board of Education. “At the elementary level, we’ll undoubtedly need more capacity for BRAC.”

Most of the secondary schools will be at 95 percent to 100 percent of capacity when the additions are finished, he said. The school board has made a priority of limiting enrollment to 1,600 in county high schools and to 1,200 for middle schools, so an influx of students would mean more schools, not bigger buildings.

“This isn’t the end of the building that will have to occur in Harford County for the schools to be able to be at capacity,” Mr. Morrison said.

Officials call the projects “forward-funded,” meaning the county will pay all of the costs and then hope the state contributes its share.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, has said she will try to double the amount of federal aid for school districts affected by BRAC. She said she wants the districts to receive the money before the additional students arrive.

However, County Executive David R. Craig, a Republican, said “the well does run dry” at some point.

Most of the new jobs are civilian, so the school districts won’t receive as much federal aid as they would for children of military employees.

Another problem is that officials have no idea where the employees will live, which makes planning nearly impossible.

A Defense Department report released in November projected that the job increase at Aberdeen Proving Ground could mean 1,973 more students. The number includes only children of military and civilian employees, not civilian contractors whose jobs also will move to the area north of Baltimore.

Karen Emery, BRAC manager for the county’s office of economic development, said the county is conducting a regional demographic study, but that planning is more difficult when most jobs are civilian.

Mr. Wolkow said predictions are risky. Real planning, he said with a laugh, can begin only when “you see the whites of their eyes.”


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