- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

Schools in Anne Arundel County will be overcrowded and underfunded when thousands of new jobs arrive at Fort Meade in four years, Anne Arundel County schools officials told Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley yesterday.

“We can’t invite people to dinner and when they get here say, ‘I’m sorry there is nothing,’ ” West Meade Elementary School Principal Carole Janesko told Mr. O’Malley after she escorted him through the already overcrowded school whose population is expected to swell when the new jobs arrive.

An Army report released last month projected that 22,000 jobs will come to the base by 2011, including nearly 5,800 jobs from the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that schools officials are trying to plan for the increase in student population likely to accompany the new jobs, though they lack much of the demographic information needed to do so.

While Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, toured an on-base school likely to grow, those are not the only schools that will face a squeeze. Because many of the new workers will be civilians, the families can live anywhere within commuting distance of the base, leaving schools officials without a clear way to plan for possible increases at schools around the county.

School board Vice President Eugene Peterson said schools in the western part of the county, where Fort Meade is located, are running out of space and will be hard pressed when the new jobs arrive. Schools there were redistricted last year to relieve some of the pressure.

“We need another large elementary school in west county yesterday,” he said. Without the proper planning, he said, some would-be residents would “vote with their feet” and leave for areas with better or less-crowded school systems.

Though schools officials have estimates of how many children might join the school system because of the BRAC jobs, they have no projections for how many students to expect from the rest of the estimated 22,000 jobs, restricting them to plan around the smaller — and incomplete — number.

When asked what the state would do to help Anne Arundel better plan for the arrival of an unknown number of students, Mr. O’Malley said he prefers the state deal with the challenge of growth than with the problem of job shrinkage.

Both Mr. Peterson and Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell blamed County Executive John. R. Leopold and the county council for not providing the funding the school system needs to relieve overcrowding and prepare for the expected increase in the student population.

The county’s recently passed budget increased the school system’s budget by 8 percent, compared to the schools board’s request of a 17 percent increase.

The budget also included money for feasibility studies for two new elementary schools and $2.5 million for feasibility and planning for other new schools the board decides to fund.

Mr. Leopold said he had done what he could.

“The school system has a role to play to articulate the needs of the school system but I have a broader responsibility … within the framework of fiscal reality and fiscal accountability,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley said the state would do what was possible to provide state funding for infrastructure and public service demands in the face of a state budget deficit.

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