On the surface, the case for a new high school in Crofton seems logical. Other area high schools are close to capacity, and new development in west Anne Arundel County is promising only more students.
But after a briefing Monday with school system officials, advocates learned that a lot has to happen before anything gets built.
During a two-hour session at the Crofton Branch Library, the Anne Arundel County Public School chief operating officer checked off the many obstacles: an existing maintenance and capital improvements backlog of more than $2 billion. A tax cap that makes it challenging to borrow large sums of money. Other capital needs throughout the county. And—perhaps most importantly—the actual math of whether there are enough surplus students to populate a school.
“We know we need a school,” Alex Szachnowicz said. “You don’t need to convince me. It’s not coming today, but we know it’s coming on the horizon. Our challenge is to build a business case.”
Building the Case
Monday’s forum was organized by Build Crofton High School, a group of residents who have gathered thousands of signatures in an effort to gain public support. They have pushed for the new high school because of capacity issues, but also because students in Crofton are now split between Arundel and South River high schools.
The case for the new school in the Crofton area, Szachnowicz said, needs to be based on numbers. And right now, the numbers don’t quite add up.
AACPS figures show that South River High School is over capacity by 104 students this year, while Arundel High won’t be over capacity until 2017. Meade High School will not be over capacity until 2017, thanks to developer-funded additions.
Szachnowicz said that in general, a new high school can’t be justified until it can be 70 percent full. That’s roughly 1,000 students.
“When you start getting to a thousand students, that’s when you start getting some attention,” Szachnowicz said.
The county won’t reach that total of surplus students until 2021, and only if all currently proposed development projects come to fruition.
Until that magic number is reached, Szachnowicz said the state and county are more likely to address school capacity issues with a combination of portable classrooms, additions and even redistricting.
“The issue is, when do you say, ‘OK, we’ve tried all that other stuff. We’re at a point where we simply need a new building?’” he said.
Pressing Those in Power
Szachnowicz said that it’s still important for the community to talk with the school board and local and state lawmakers now, because the process of getting approval and funding for a school is long. The project must get in line behind other capital improvement projects, then must gather the necessary votes from the school board and county council. Maryland officials must also be convinced, as the state foots the bill for about 23 percent of school construction costs.
Crofton high school advocates said they will take their case to the county council at public budget hearings on May 13. The group also will hold another community meeting on the issue in September.
"We have to start the conversation, and we have to get ourselves on the list, get in front of the community and our government leaders and let them know that we want a high school," said Crofton resident Barbara Aldridge, who has spearheaded the Build Crofton High School effort.