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Baltimore County Council takes another swing at overcrowded schools legislation

Classroom trailers at Towson High School, which is one of the most crowded schools in the county. Photo by John Lee/WYPR.
John Lee
Classroom trailers at Towson High School, which is one of the most crowded schools in the county.

Have you heard the one about the Baltimore County Council passing legislation that was then vetoed by County Executive Johnny Olszewski? Then the council overrode Olszewski’s veto, then immediately introduced legislation to fix the original bill?

The County Council Tuesday started to work on cleaning up legislation it recently passed that is designed to restrict development near overcrowded schools.

“I think this adds clarification,” County Council Chairman Izzy Patoka said.

Olszewski vetoed the original legislation, which was an update of the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance June 13. The council overrode that veto July 1.

Olszewski called the legislation “well intentioned,” but questioned whether it would be effective and said it would “drastically reduce opportunities for attainable housing.”

Baltimore County is legally obligated under an agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create 1,000 affordable housing units by 2027.

The new legislation would allow a development to move forward in an overcrowded school district if the county attorney offers an opinion that it is required for the county to meet its agreement with HUD.

Another major change from the original legislation would weaken the authority of a newly-created committee. It originally was going to have the ability to put the brakes on a development if it was planned within an overcrowded school district. Under the new legislation, the committee would only be advisory.

Democratic Councilman Mike Ertel, who is sponsoring the new legislation, said the committee would still serve the purpose of shining light on a potential overcrowding problem.

“It puts it in front of the school board, it puts it in front of the County Council, it puts it in front of the county executive,” Ertel said. “To say, ‘you can ignore this, you don’t have to do anything about it, but here is what we recommend.’”

The new legislation would keep in place much of the original bill approved by the County Council.

It lowered what is considered an overcrowded school from 115% capacity to 105%.

The legislation also gets rid of the adjacency loophole.

This allows developers to build in an overcrowded school district as long as there is a nearby school that is below capacity. The idea is that the school board could then shift students from one school to the other through redistricting.

But that rarely happens.

The County Council will hold a public hearing on the new legislation July 30. A final vote is expected August 5.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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