Potomac Schools 'Not Overcrowded'

Potomac Schools 'Not Overcrowded'

<bt>According to measures in the Annual Growth Policy passed by the County Council last fall, no school clusters in the county are overcrowded, and development may proceed anywhere in the county where the zoning allows it.

The Annual Growth Policy defines whether or not a specific area of the county has sufficient infrastructure to support new development. One critical part of this is whether schools have room for more students. Each year, the Planning Board is required to analyze school enrollment projections for each cluster and determine if the area has sufficient school capacity.

To pass the test, elementary and middle schools must have a projected enrollment of, at most, 105 percent of the schools’ official capacity. High schools have a maximum of 100 percent of capacity, but can “borrow” capacity from adjacent high schools’ clusters.

Capacity is determined by multiplying the number of classrooms in a cluster by the maximum classroom size, which varies by grade level. Unbuilt enhancements, such as the addition of a classroom are also included in the calculation, if they have been included in the budget.

The tests are done at the cluster level, so even if one school is well over capacity, but a neighboring school in the same cluster has extra room, or is expected to have a new addition built, that space can also be included. The reasoning is that the boundaries could be shifted to move some students into another school, even though such boundary changes are controversial and take several years to complete.

If schools in an area were over 105 percent of capacity, developers would be required to pay an additional surcharge, in addition to the standard school impact fee. If schools in an area were 110 percent over capacity, no new houses would be allowed.

But when Montgomery County’s schools took this year’s test, all of the clusters in the county passed; none were found to be overcrowded.

At the elementary school level, the Watkins Mill cluster was closest to the 105 percent threshold, with 100 seats to spare. At the middle school level, Seneca Valley had only 60 seats before reaching 105 percent.

Several high schools, including Churchill, Whitman and Wootton are over capacity, but passed the test by being able to borrow capacity from neighboring clusters.