A public meeting Thursday on school overcrowding in the Walter Johnson High School area included a common refrain from Bruce Crispell, the chief planner for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).
The growth that has the school system at 156,514 students—its highest total ever—is being driven primarily by turnover in existing single-family home neighborhoods, not by families moving into new apartments and condos built over the last few years in areas such as downtown Bethesda and White Flint.
“I’m going to bet you right now that is going to continue,” Crispell told a group of about 80 parents.
While development has for decades been a hot-button issue in Montgomery County, concerns in recent years have been focused on how many students are coming from new apartments and new condominiums.
As he did at an event at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School earlier this year, Crispell on Thursday tried to dispel the idea that apartments and condos are behind enrollment growth.
To do it, he matched student addresses to the addresses of specific mid-rise and high-rise apartment and condominium buildings in the area.
From four mid-rise buildings in the Walter Johnson area (the Avalon, North Bethesda Market West, White Flint Station and Strathmore Court buildings), there are 94 elementary school students, 30 middle school students and 44 students at Walter Johnson.
Divided by the 1,078 total units in those buildings, that equals a student-generation rate of 8.7 elementary school students per every 100 units, 2.8 middle school students per every 100 units and 4.1 high school students per every 100 units.
Numbers in seven down-county high school clusters including Walter Johnson and Bethesda-Chevy Chase showed 32.3 elementary school students per every 100 single-family detached homes.
The middle school student- generation rate from single-family homes is 13.2 students per every 100 homes and the high school rate is 15.3 students per every 100 homes, according to MCPS data.
County planners have pointed to young families buying new homes as the main driver of growth. Those moving into apartments and condominiums tend to be young professionals without children or retirees with grown children, though Crispell said Thursday that he and other school planners around the region are watching to see if that trend changes as more multi-family buildings are opened.
To drill home the point, Crispell displayed data from the 174-unit PerSei apartment building at Pike & Rose, the first new apartment building to open thanks to the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.
This school year, there are four elementary school students, no middle school students and one high school student living in the 95 percent-occupied building.
If fully built, the new development permitted by the White Flint Sector Plan could bring as many as 9,000 new housing units to the area—part of the Walter Johnson cluster. Sector plans just underway in the adjacent White Flint 2 area and Rock Spring could establish zoning to allow more housing.
A review of student addresses matching the addresses of 10 existing high-rise buildings in White Flint with 4,934 units showed 171 elementary school students, 51 middle school students and 71 students at Walter Johnson, meaning lower student-generation rates than shown for the four mid-rise properties.
In the March event at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Crispell discussed results from a similar survey of 3,553 apartment and condo units in downtown Bethesda.
He found 91 elementary school students, 35 middle school students and 60 high school students in those buildings, resulting in similar student-generation rates to those of apartments and condominiums in the Walter Johnson cluster.