When Baltimore last revised its school districts boundaries, in the mid-1970s, the city had 215 public schools and 160,000 students.
This summer, the city school board is expected to crank up the rezoning machinery once again, in a school system that now has just 108,000 students in 180 schools.
The complex process -- which is projected to take up to three more years -- could result in some schools being closed and some students being sent to schools other than the ones they now attend.
It is intended to deal with the dramatic population changes that have produced overcrowded schools in some neighborhoods and underused school buildings in others.
But school officials stress that it would be September 1993 at the earliest before the schools could be rezoned, and no schools could be closed until September 1994, under the draft plan that currently awaits school board action.
J. Edward Andrews, the city's deputy school superintendent, told members of the City Council yesterday that the draft plan spells out the rezoning process, but does not yet specify the new zones or identify which or how many schools might be closed.
Even so, he said, "I'm asking that the board approve the plan or modify it or adopt it for implementation beginning this fall."
Andrews' comments came yesterday at a City Council hearing on the school system's $544.4 million fiscal 1992 budget, amid impatience by some council members about the pace of school rezoning.
Interest in the topic was rekindled last month in the wake of community complaints about disruptive students at Hampstead Hill Middle School in East Baltimore.
At a public meeting, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had suggested that school might be subject to rezoning, something the school department said would take place within the framework of a city-wide school rezoning effort.
The draft plan now before the school board sets out a detailed framework for school rezoning, including community involvement.
Among other things, it calls for analysis of current enrollment and school capacity, and projections of future enrollment based on 1990 census data.
"It's more than an issue of reshuffling youngsters," said Norman J. Walsh, the associate superintendent who is overseeing the process. "It's an issue of what are the realistic capacities of our schools."
Under the proposed plan still awaiting school board action, the department in March 1993 would brief the board on its plans to change school district boundaries and close particular schools.
The boundary changes could go into effect starting in September 1993, according to Walsh. But state law requires requires public hearings and parental involvement before a school can be closed, and that can take more than a year, he said.
Walsh said the department is hoping for school board action on its rezoning plan sometime this month or next month.