It’s More Than School Seats

Recent changes to how my county’s allocates school seats for residential projects has stirred up much controversary. This highlights that development impact is complex and more than just about schools. It’s about the larger issue of development – its pace, location, required infrastructure, economic development , affordable housing, and how to pay for it all.

In totality what does this mean? What are facts/information about growth/development and it’s impact on the County? There is never a clear and simple answer.

Source: WilliamsonSource, July 2015


The County Commissioners, after meeting with the elected School Board approved major changes to the School Allocation policy. This review was initiated by the County’s Economic Development Department (EDD) at the request of a developer of a mixed-use project (residential and commercial uses). The suggested changes would allow more school seats so residential development can move forward quicker rather than wait in line longer.

The County’s school allocation policy has been in place for over ten years, dividing the community, with little discussion and opportunity for compromise.

The Arguments

School board members, the staff, and parents argue that relaxing the allocation allowing more houses, will overburden already crowded schools. The is not unexpected, since good schools ( i.e. – no portable classrooms/trailers) is a major factor when buying a home. With more homes, there is more traffic, adding to road congestion and longer work commuting times.

Several County Commissioners echoed the same opposing points, but went further stating “we don’t need more houses”.

The development and real estate community, supported the revised allocation policy, allowing more housing and shortening wait times to obtain school allocation approvals, needed before building permit approval. This could then fill the ongoing demand for affordable housing. Jobs will be created and tax revenues will increase, needed to support required infrastructure – roads, water/sewer and more schools.

It’s Not What it Seems

These illustrate a lack of real understanding about the complexity of growth, how they are interconnected, and the need for better dialogue to reach fact-based decisions.

An example helps. The County just recently and proudly announced that Kaiser Permanente will build a new medical campus, generating+-100 jobs. This is a good thing. This could perhaps help to reduce out commuting (65% of the County workforce), while generating a positive fiscal impact – more revenue than the cost of providing services, because non-residential uses don’t generate kids. School construction accounts for over 50 % of the County’s budget.

Image result for Kaiser Permanente Medical office buildings charles county
Source: Kaiser Permanente

Opposition to relaxing the school seat allocation policy, allowing for more housing is really no growth for the sake of preserving school quality and capacity. This is a not necessarily a surprise since quality public education is the function of the county board of education and expected by residents.


Is this the classic NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) versus YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) dilemma? For me – no!

It’s about balancing competing interests, using facts and existing policies to have informed discussions to reach a consensus on this important issue but difficult decision.

AP Photo/Noah Berger

It is about looking beyond just the schools and looking at the larger picture -the unintended consequence’s. Yes, we might have better schools, but at what price if people can’t buy afford to buy a house, rent an apartment, and reduces housing choice.

This is probably a pipe dream, given the current state of our civic discourse. But quality schools, and development impacts has and is a significant issue for my and many other places. The pandemic has exposed this and our ability to fix problems.

We need to come together and get on with fixing stuff, sooner than later!

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