Thursday, August 31, 2006

It's the schools, stupid...

Although Fort Meade is in Anne Arundel County, the impact of thousands of additional personnel will most assuredly be felt on the other (better) side of the tracks here in Howard County. No matter how much we control development or pull up the welcome mats for new residents, many of the 5,300 military jobs plus however many private jobs follow in their wake will be held by people who want to live in our county much more than in neighboring counties.


With nearly 4,100 Defense Information Systems Agency jobs set to move to Fort Meade by 2010, there was no shortage of people asking Kent Menser, the head of Howard County's BRAC task force, questions as he worked at a local fair booth in northern Virginia this summer.

Many of the employees slated to relocate now live in the Fairfax County school district, one of the most recognized districts in the country. Four Fairfax public high schools were listed in Newsweek's May issue of the Top 100.

So when DISA employees heard Howard County students averaged one point higher than Fairfax students on the SATs, many parents' interest were piqued, Menser said.

“…the schools in the county will be a magnet for folks," [Superintendent Sydney] Cousin said.
This is not wishful thinking on the part of some pro-development lackey. This is reality, and it’s the price we pay for being damn near the best in almost every quality of life index, survey or ranking out there (except, of course, for commute time).

The question is: How do we maintain our, for lack of a better word, greatness in the face of pressures and circumstances we cannot control? I refuse to believe that we can simply preserve what we have while the world around us changes. We cannot ignore or hope our way out of BRAC.

Thankfully, however, a committee is studying our predicament. And at least one member’s saying things that are sure to meet resistance.
The influx of service members and military civilians and their families have school officials attempting to project how many students will move into the county and when those moves will take place, despite limited information.

"Right now we don't have enough information to answer those questions," said Sydney Cousin, superintendent of Howard County public schools and a member of the Howard County BRAC Task Force, in an interview after the meeting.

Cousin said he expects the county will likely be forced to revise its general plan, a Department of Planning and Zoning document that is updated about once a decade and is considered the guiding document for Howard County's growth.
Changing the General Plan, huh? Although I’m not sure where I stand on that, the fact that our growth-guiding document was drafted before circumstances changed significantly certainly presents a valid argument for amending it.

Of course, it’s still early in the BRAC process and in the task force’s existence. Many details are still unknown and likely will be until the moving vans arrive. The best we can do know is act on what we know and adapt as the situation warrants.

In a move that should put a smile on even the most hardened cynic’s face, Menser, a retired Army Colonel, is looking for a few good men and women.
"There are a lot of bright people in Howard County. I want to put that intellect to work," Menser told an audience of about 25 people who attended last week's meeting.

He urged people with special expertise to volunteer for one of the task force's committees that work on areas from transportation to grant writing.
The next meeting of the task force will be Wednesday, September 6 at 3:30 pm (again with the freaking daytime meetings) at the county building in Gateway. If you’re interested in serving on a committee, the county lists this phone number for Menser: 410-313-3410.

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