Planning Board Briefed on Results of Annual School Test on June 21

June 27, 2018

Children boarding school bus

Projected utilization rates require a residential development moratorium in multiple cluster and school service areas

SILVER SPRING, MD – The Montgomery County Planning Department, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, presented the Annual School Test to the Planning Board on Thursday, June 21. This test is a primary component of the county’s Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP) that evaluates the adequacy of schools to accommodate new residential development.

The test results are approved each June after the Capital Budget and the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Capital Improvements Program (CIP) are adopted by the Montgomery County Council. The results take effect at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

“The Planning Department recognizes the school overcrowding issues faced by the county,” says Planning Director Gwen Wright. “The Annual School Test is performed with a high level of accuracy to show the number of students being added to the public school system from a particular service area so we can determine if development in that area should proceed or not.”

The Annual School Test results determine if and when new residential subdivisions in any school service area should be subject to a development moratorium based on the projected utilization of school facilities. Projected utilization is based on projected enrollment and capacity in the final year of the adopted (or amended) CIP.

The FY19 test results are based on projected enrollment and capacity in Montgomery County public schools for the 2023-24 school year.

Adequacy at Cluster and School Levels

The 2016 Subdivision Staging Policy refined the school test to provide an additional assessment of capacity issues at the individual school level, as opposed to only the cluster level. This two-tier approach calls attention to overcrowding at individual schools that may otherwise be masked at the cluster level due to excess capacity elsewhere in the cluster.

The cluster level test is conducted to evaluate adequacy across elementary, middle and high schools in a cluster and determine cluster-wide moratoria. Residential subdivision approvals are halted when the projected cumulative utilization rate is greater than 120 percent at any school level.

The school level test is conducted to evaluate the adequacy of individual elementary and middle schools and to determine local moratoria. If projected utilization is greater than 120 percent and there is a projected deficit of 110 seats or more at an elementary school, then a moratorium on residential development goes into effect in the local area. If a middle school’s projected utilization is greater than 120 percent and has a projected deficit of 180 seats or more, then a moratorium on residential development goes into effect in the local area.

Highlights of the 2018 Annual School Test

  • Five clusters exceed the moratorium threshold at the high school level. Two will enter moratoria for FY 2019, while the other three remain open conditionally due to a placeholder project or a CIP project in another cluster.
  • The approved six-year CIP does not identify a timely path to resolving enrollment burdens at Montgomery Blair High School or Northwood High School. Therefore, the service areas for those two schools will be entering moratoria on July 1.
  • Sixteen elementary school service areas exceed the moratorium thresholds. Five of the service areas will enter moratoria, while the other 11 remain open conditionally due to placeholder projects or CIP projects at other schools. The five elementary schools with service areas entering moratoria are Ashburton, Burnt Mills, Highland View, Lake Seneca and Stonegate.
  • Applications for residential subdivisions within an area under moratorium can still be submitted, however, none can come before the Planning Board for preliminary plan approval until the moratorium is lifted. Any application that has already received its preliminary plan approval by July 1, 2018 can continue as planned.  Absent any mid-year amendments to the CIP by the Council, the results of the FY 2019 Annual School Test will remain in effect until June 30, 2019.

In addition to accepting the results of the FY 2019 Annual School Test, the Planning Board voted 3-1 to use regional student generation rates (as opposed to countywide rates) to estimate the enrollment impacts of residential development applications when reviewing the applications for adequate school capacity.

Using the regional rates provides a more localized snapshot of the number of students generated by different types of housing and ensures consistency with how the Montgomery County Public Schools and County Council estimate the enrollment impacts of master plans.

For more information on the Annual School Test, the FY 2019 results, placeholders and student generation rates, please visit http://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/functional-planning/subdivision-staging-policy/annual-school-test/.