When school officials suggest redistricting a few hundred students from one school to another, they may find hundreds of parents attending their meetings to complain that they're breaking up community traditions.
Anne Arundel officials are proposing redistricting the entire county, which could affect as many as 15,000 students, in an effort to make save money through more efficient use of school space and to enhance educational opportunities.
No one is sure what storm they may have unleashed.
In adopting a $616.6 million operating budget and a $110 million capital budget for fiscal year 1992, the Anne Arundel County Council last week unanimously agreed, in effect, to hold up $15.6 million for construction of the long-awaited North County High
School until the Board of Education comes up with a plan to redistrict the school system.
County Auditor Joseph Novotny said the county's action about the release of money for North County High School was a "proviso," more in the form of a strong request, than as a more restrictive "contingency." Novotny said that was why it was important that the full council supported it.
"What I wanted to make sure of is that the council had the commitment to do this and the Board of Ed would not be left holding the bag," he said.
County Budget Officer Dennis Parkinson said the proviso is not an ultimatum to the school board.
"We want to provide some flexibility to the Board of Education," Parkinson said. "It is not our intention to delay the construction, but to get some assurances changes will occur."
Michael Raible, supervisor of school planning and construction, said the Board of Education would need $8 million of the construction money in fiscal year 1992. Linking the money to the redistricting plan could delay construction, he said.
School board officials diplomatically have expressed concern over the council's "proviso," but have not openly criticized it. Board members officially said they will be supportive of the council's decision and answer their request.
The idea of redistricting students throughout the county is not new. However, the concept gained momentum last week after Novotny told council members that redistricting could save the county $80 million to $100 million. After years of budget growth, the county, like its neighbors in central Maryland, found itself strapped for cash in the recession.
"We do not have the dollars" to build new schools, Novotny said. "We have to do something creative. I think we can explain to the public, I think we have 100 million reasons why the plan should be put into effect."
However, school board President Nancy Gist said that more issues than money have to be considered when redistricting so many students.
"The redistricting of 15,000 students is fine on paper, but you can do serious damage to a community. It is possible you could have next-door neighbors attending separate schools.
"I'm not challenging Mr. Novotny's figures of $80 to $100 million [savings], although I'm sure they could be challenged since it's just one man's analysis," Gist said. "But we have to consider more than those numbers. We have to consider whose quality of life we're impacting and how we're impacting upon it."
Under Novotny's plan, Gist said, it is possible that one community could send students to two and as many four different schools on the same grade level.
Novotny has suggested that the Board of Education has the capacity to come up with a plan to redistrict the schools, hold public hearings and present a final plan by October. The board is to begin accepting bids to build North County High School that month.
However, even Councilman George F. Bachman, D-Linthicum, who supported the proviso, told Novotny it would be impossible for the board to have a plan so soon. Others have suggested it will take at least a year to come up with a viable plan.