Planners say Calvert County needs a fourth high school and it should be built in the northern part of the county, but parents and residents at a public hearing Thursday night told school board members in often heated remarks that they disagree.
"I'm asking you to put a school where the children are--in the south," said parent Marlene White.
White set the tone for the night. One by one, parents and residents urged the Board of Education to place the contemplated fourth high school in the southern end of the county, where crowded schools and frequent redistricting have become the norm. Nearly 50 people, almost all residents of southern Calvert, crowded into the board's meeting room at school headquarters in Prince Frederick for the lengthy hearing.
What they heard during the planners' presentation produced many groans. The numerous graphs and charts the planners displayed seemed to confuse and frustrate many in the audience. Frank Jaklitsch, the county's planner, and Lloyd Robertson, the school district's planner, both said their data show that the population growth in the southern end of the county will diminish.
The planners also noted that slow-growth measures enacted by Calvert commissioners last year would allow the county's households to rise to a maximum of about 37,000, nearly 30,000 fewer than would have been possible before the limits.
The planners then presented three options for locating the high school. Two of them would put the school in the north--scenarios that planners have recommended to the school board. The third option--the favorite with the audience on Thursday--placed it in the south, somewhere around St. Leonard.
Several of the speakers said they were leery of the planner's population projections, citing Dowell Elementary as an example of how planning can miss the mark. Last fall, the new elementary school in Lusby, built to relieve classroom crowding in the southern end of the county, opened over capacity. Parents of children who were moved into Dowell by redistricting said the crowding was a sign that someone is making poor decisions.
White said 31 children make up her daughter's class at Dowell Elementary.
"The more my children move, the more crowded my children's classrooms are," she said.
Linda Morin, a Lusby parent, urged school board members not to "put their faith in projections."
Many asked the planners what led to their conclusion that the growth in the south would slow at some point. The answer--that it was partly based on population trends and years of experience--angered many in the audience.
"You have to base those numbers on something more than opinion and experience," said Lisa Boone, a Lusby parent.
Schools Superintendent James R. Hook said in an interview that he is not dismissing the possibility of a fifth high school--an option that has little backing among county commissioners. But, he said, a decision to build or plan for a fifth high school would affect where the fourth high school is placed.
Hook said he expects to make a recommendation about locating the fourth high school to the board in February or March.