Planning Board Briefed on Results of Annual School Test on June 20

June 24, 2019

Projected school utilization rates require a residential development moratorium in several 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 results to the Planning Board on Thursday, June 20. 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 county’s 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 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 enrollment and capacity five years into the future.

The FY20 test results are based on projected enrollment and capacity in Montgomery County public schools for the 2024-25 school year. The FY20 test results identify four cluster service areas and 13 individual elementary school service areas that will be in moratorium in FY20.

Applications for new residential subdivisions within an area under moratorium can still be submitted to the Planning Board for preliminary plan approval but cannot be approved until the moratorium is lifted. The SSP now allows for three exceptions to the moratorium.  Age-restricted (senior) housing projects and residential developments with a net increase of three units or less can receive Planning Board approval even in areas under moratorium.

On June 25, 2019 the Council adopted an amendment to the SSP providing a third exception, which would allow Planning Board approval if a project meets certain conditions pertaining to student generation, condemned properties or housing affordability.

Any residential development application that has already received its preliminary plan approval by July 1, 2019 can continue as planned.  Absent any mid-year amendments to the CIP by the Council, the results of the FY 2020 Annual School Test will remain in effect until June 30, 2020.

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

The school level test is conducted to evaluate the capacity 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 FY2020 Annual School Test

  • For FY20, Montgomery Blair High School, Albert Einstein High School and Walter Johnson High Schools each exceed the 120 percent program capacity ceiling. As a result, new residential development will be subject to a moratorium in these cluster service areas.
  • In addition to these high school clusters, the James H. Blake cluster service area will be in a moratorium because its 10 elementary schools collectively exceed the 120 percent utilization threshold.
  • Five other school cluster service areas will avoid moratorium due to planned projects in other clusters that will relieve projected overcrowding through the future reassignment of students. These areas are the Clarksburg, Richard Montgomery, Northwest, Northwood and Quince Orchard clusters.
  • For FY20, 13 elementary schools exceed both the 120 percent program capacity utilization ceiling and 110-seat deficit threshold. Since there are no approved or funded solutions for these schools, new residential subdivisions in these school areas will be under moratorium.
  • Six elementary school service areas have been relieved of moratoria due to CIP projects at other schools that will result in future reassignments of students. These elementary schools are Rachel Carson, Clarksburg, Forest Knolls, JoAnn Leleck, Strawberry Knoll and Summit Hall.

Development projects that have already received their adequate public facilities approval can continue to move forward as long as the approval has not expired. Currently there are more than 10,000 approved and unbuilt residential units in the development pipeline in areas that will be under moratorium for FY20.

Some of these projects have been dormant while others are actively in progress. Nevertheless, the existence of a moratorium does not mean that development projects will be entirely halted.

For more information on the Annual School Test, the FY20 results, placeholders and student generation rates, please visit https://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/functional-planning/subdivision-staging-policy/schools/annual-school-test/.