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Two Harford County elementary schools have been removed from the official overcrowded list, lifting residential development moratoriums in their enrollment areas. That’s not to say Fountain Green Elementary and Magnolia Elementary aren’t still overcrowded, they are, but just not as overcrowded as they were six months ago.

That’s the rub we have with how Harford County now judges the adequacy of its school facilities. Until last June 30, any school whose enrollment exceeded its capacity by 5 percent was considered overcrowded enough to trigger a moratorium against additional housing developments in the school’s attendance area. Using this 105 percent threshold, both Magnolia and Fountain Green were overcrowded. But then, the Harford County Council decided to let the 105 percent rule lapse in favor of a much more lenient standard, 110 percent, and, presto-chango, at 106 percent and 105 percent, respectively, Fountain Green and Magnolia are no longer overcrowded.

We understand that it’s never going to be one student for every seat in every school in Harford County. And there are other things besides building new houses that affect school enrollment. Both Magnolia and Fountain Green actually lost a few students between fall 2008 and fall 2009, just as some of the other schools that were also on the previous moratorium list — and remain on it — got more crowded, like Emmorton Elementary, and some schools that weren’t on the list also got more crowded, like Homestead-Wakefield Elementary, which moved to 100 percent from 97 percent.

The point is, we shouldn’t be cramming kids into any school far in excess of its capacity, especially at the elementary level and especially when 21 of the county’s 32 elementary schools have fewer students than seats. The goal should be within a percent or two of capacity either way, not 134 percent like Prospect Mill or 128 percent like Emmorton or 124 percent like Forest Lakes or 117 percent like Youth’s Benefit. Building the new school at Red Pump might eliminate some of this overcrowding, but that’s not likely with all the new housing that is now in a rush to be built in the area the school will serve.

The 105 percent standard had us on the road to forcing an end to severe overcrowding, be it by building new schools or redistricting to less crowded existing schools. A return to a 110 percent adequacy standard makes it all that much more likely another Prospect Mill situation will occur — and we still haven’t eliminated the one that already exists.


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