Harford Schools Enrollment Decline Stabilizes, But 6,800 Empty Seats Remain

In another sign that enrollment in Harford County’s public school system has begun to stabilize after years of steady declines, the system recorded a slight gain in total students since last fall.

Even so, the school system still has considerable excess capacity in its buildings for some 6,800 students, but the empty seats are dispersed, thus a few schools are near or over capacity and others well under capacity.

According to The Aegis,

Total school enrollment increased by six between September and March of this school year, according to a report discussed last week at the semi-annual meeting of the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Advisory Board.

The school system had 37,442 students among its 54 schools as of the Sept. 30, 2016, enrollment count. That number had increased, “believe it or not,” by six to 37,448 by March 31, Joseph Licata, chief of administration for HCPS, told advisory board members Thursday evening.

The APF advisory board is made up of county government, school system and PTA leaders who meet twice a year in the spring and fall to review enrollment figures, how they compare to each school’s capacity and the state of residential construction.

The board is preparing its annual report, scheduled to be submitted to the County Council in June.

The county can impose a moratorium on residential development in the area around a particular school if its enrollment is near 110 percent of its capacity. No individual schools are within six percentage points of that figure.

Advisory board members do not anticipate recommending any moratoriums this year. While the system’s total excess capacity is nearly 6,800 students, the empty spaces vary from elementary to middle to high schools.

“To most people that means we have 54 empty buildings, but when you break it down by level it does give you a little bit of a different picture,” Licata said.

Harford’s 33 elementary schools were at 90 percent capacity this year, as of November of 2016, the most recent capacity data. Elementary schools had 1,867 open seats out of 19,351.

The nine middle schools were at 80 percent capacity, with 2,086 out of 10,578 seats open. The 10 high schools were at 81 percent capacity, with 2,582 out of 13,853 seats open, according to the data.

Enrollment, which has been declining each year for the past decade, is expected to keep dropping through the early 2020s, according to the data.

The amount of excess capacity is expected to grow to nearly 7,300 by 2023, although County Council President Richard Slutzky, who chairs the advisory board, cautioned that such projections become less accurate the further out one looks.

More students are starting to trickle in from new apartment communities, such as those in the Abingdon Elementary School attendance area, according to Licata.

“We’ve had sufficient capacity so far to absorb even that difference pretty easily,” Planning and Zoning Director Bradley Killian said.

Licata said single-family home communities typically produce more new students, however.

Harford County is in the midst of its comprehensive zoning process, which is conducted every eight years.

In addition, current state funding formulas for local school aid penalize systems like Harford’s that have lost students, a situation which is under study in Annapolis but has still led to smaller amounts of state funding in the Harford school budget over the past several years.

“We’re doing two good things,” Slutzky said of the enrollment situation. “One is gaining a few students and the other is, kids are staying in school.”

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