- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

Anne Arundel County schools officials say they are struggling to prepare for an influx of students when thousands of new jobs arrive at Fort Meade because job projections are rising while student estimates have not been updated.

An Army report released last month announced that 22,000 new jobs would come to the military base by 2011. But county officials are still making plans based on an older projection of nearly 5,800 new jobs because they don’t have the specific information they need based on the new projection.

“We’re not sure exactly what to make of them,” student demographic specialist Chuck Yocum said of the new estimates. “I’m still not sure anyone knows for sure how many [students] are coming.”

County officials had planned on a projected increase of about 1,703 students based on a Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development report, which studied the effect of the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan on Fort Meade and other military installations in Maryland. But that number will almost certainly increase under the Army’s projections.

According to the state report, Fort Meade will gain almost 5,800 jobs from BRAC. The Army report combined that number with the projected expansion of military agencies on the fort and a plan to lease base land to a private contractor for office space that could hold 10,000 workers.

The state report contained specific information on the projected number of new households and public school students for counties affected by BRAC, while the Army report simply estimated that the growth would bring 7,700 new students to the Fort Meade region without breaking down that number by county.

Because families could settle in a wide area surrounding the fort, Mr. Yocum said the number does not provide guidance for Anne Arundel school officials. Some area schools are already operating at capacity.

Marine Corps Gen. Mike Hayes, director of the state economic development department’s Office of Military and Federal Affairs, said the department’s grant from the federal Labor Department that paid for the study only allowed planners to look at BRAC growth. He said the department will not carry out another study to incorporate the larger growth coming to Fort Meade.

The Army’s figure of 22,000 jobs might be an overestimate since it counts on 10,000 jobs from leased office space on base, he said. Those offices have yet to be built, and 10,000 people is the maximum capacity.

“I think that ought to have a great big asterisk because that’s potential, that’s not a given,” he said.

The Army report warned that elementary schools in the Fort Meade area would have trouble absorbing additional students because many were already operating at capacity. The additional students could worsen the student-teacher ratios, it said.

Anne Arundel officials began planning for the expected BRAC growth by building two new elementary schools, enlarging another, and redistricting to relieve crowded high schools. But the additional growth will likely crowd schools, particularly elementary schools, Mr. Yocum said.

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