Facing pressure from housing advocates, state policymakers and local developers, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. on Thursday vetoed a contested County Council bill that sought to mitigate overcrowding in some county schools.

Olszewski said he wants to work with Baltimore County Public Schools and the council to come up with a better bill.

“While we applaud the intentions of the members of the County Council seeking to address school overcrowding concerns,” Olszewski said at a Thursday news event, “we are confident that this legislation will not meaningfully address the issue, but will instead exacerbate other significant problems that our residents are already facing.”

The council would need five votes to override the veto. The two members opposed, Democrats Julian Jones and Pat Young, appear unlikely to change their votes. Jones stood with the county executive at the press conference and thanked him for his leadership; Young sent an aide to represent him on the stage. Republican Councilman Todd Crandell was absent for the vote earlier this month, but he had previously been critical of the legislation.

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If the council chooses to work with the county executive on new legislation, they will all have to move fast. Last month, Olszewski won the Democratic nomination in the race for U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger’s seat in Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District. He faces Republican challenger Kimberly Klacik in this fall’s general election, and according to political handicappers, Democrats are favored in the district. He will take office in January if he does.

The school overcrowding bill, crafted with suggestions from a 2020 task force studying how to relieve capacity pressure in Baltimore County schools, would have gradually lowered the maximum enrollment threshold allowed from 115% to 105%.

It also would have required housing developers seeking to build in overcrowded districts to obtain permission from an established “public school capacity committee.” If denied a permit from the committee, a developer would be placed on a waiting list for up to four years. Crucially, it would not have allowed virtually any exemptions, including applying capacity available in adjacent school districts, which is currently allowed.

From the beginning, school board members, teachers, principals, and administration officials were part of the task force. But, Olszewski said, the bill changed drastically from what the council recommended and amendments made it difficult to assess until after it passed.

Council members said they tried to work with the administration throughout the process but did not find a willing partner.

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Republican councilmembers Wade Kach, who represents northern Baltimore County, and David Marks, who represents the Perry Hall and Middle River areas, joined Democrats Izzy Patoka of Pikesville and Mike Ertel of Towson to sponsor the bill.

Young’s objections were mostly with an unelected board making decisions on schools that he felt staff should make; Jones agreed with that and also felt the bill would stop home building throughout the county, even though the legislation only would apply to overcrowded districts.

“This bill would have done nothing to address overcrowding and would have shut down new home starts throughout Baltimore County,” Jones said, adding he was looking forward to coming up with a better bill with colleagues and professionals in the school system.

Hailed by some council members as a common-sense solution that would address school overcrowding without stymying housing construction, the measure also received some support from the teachers union and parent-teacher organizations.

Kach, whose district includes the hotly contested Lutherville Station that has spawned the “No Apartments, No Compromise” opposition movement, said his support stemmed in part from a package of legislation passed during this year’s Maryland General Assembly session that lawmakers hope will boost housing supply, unleash more construction financing and protect renters’ rights.

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State lawmakers considered allowing counties to disregard “adequate public facilities ordinances,” the umbrella term for local growth management, for as long as 15 years to encourage more housing creation. But the provision received heavy backlash from some policymakers and lobbyists and did not advance to the final version of the housing package.

During testimony, Kach said the state bills would “overcrowd the schools” and necessitated a county-level response.

That point of view received pushback from housing advocates, who noted that the county has not yet met an obligation with the federal government to add 1,000 more units of affordable housing by 2027. In today’s real estate economy, the cost of building affordable housing is often offset by adding density — in apartment buildings, for example — a concept that has drawn the ire of some county residents who have bemoaned of eroding the “community character” where they live.

Advocates have also pointed to record housing and rent costs across Maryland, which they said wouldn’t be alleviated until more inventory comes online. A statewide poll released earlier this year found that Marylanders are overwhelmingly in favor of lawmakers doing more to curb home prices.

But Patoka, the council chair, said his constituents have also conveyed an appetite for more solutions to prevent and address school crowding.

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“Without exception, every meeting I go to, every person is concerned about overcrowded schools, and they tell me they are supportive of this legislation,” said Patoka, who added he was disappointed about the veto.

Educators have long agreed that overcrowded schools are not ideal learning environments. They say that students pay less attention to lessons, are less well-behaved and that the facilities deteriorate more quickly.

“When you have a grossly overcrowded school, it’s just unconscionable to add more,” said Ertel, whose district includes several high schools that are over capacity. “It’s like we have a lifeboat of eight kids and we’re going to put 12 more in it.”

Still, proponents of Gov. Wes Moore’s housing agenda contended that the school overcrowding bill sought to curb development instead of addressing some of the more systemic problems in the public school system that may be better handled with redistricting or new school construction.

In a somewhat unusual move for a cabinet-level official, Maryland Secretary of Housing & Community Development Jake Day urged the council in late May to proceed with caution when considering the bill. .

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Marks, the county councilman from Perry Hall and Middle River, bristled at the state involvement in what he said is a local issue.

“Shame on Gov. Moore and his administration for inappropriately inserting their pro-development positions on local land use decisions.” he said.

He added that all students, regardless of their household income or race, would benefit from less crowded schools.

The median home price in Baltimore County, meanwhile, has increased to $370,000, meaning that half of all homes sold are selling above that amount and half are selling below it. The county’s housing costs are among the cheapest in the Baltimore metro area, but properties are still hard to come by there. In May, homes spent a median of seven days on the market, according to the latest data from Bright MLS, the regional listing service. The data shows that if homes continued to sell at this pace, the inventory would run out in a little less than six weeks.