Budget hostages

June 06, 1991

School redistricting is always political anathema -- in part, because it is a painful and difficult process for children to move from one school to another. Still, in these tight fiscal times, with demographics shifting, it makes no sense to build new schools in the newly populated areas of Anne Arundel County when there are schools elsewhere that are half-empty.

Redistricting is, of course, not merely a financial decision. However, if the financial benefits for Arundel taxpayers are as great as the county auditor suggests, then it is something local politicians and residents may have to swallow.

Auditor Joseph Novotny estimates that a redistricting plan, which eliminates five school projects, could save the county $80 million to $100 million. But there's a catch: The plan would reduce from two to one the number of proposed middle schools in North County. That would save $20 million. But it would also leave that middle school with 1,200 to 1,800 students, while the average middle school in Maryland serves roughly 800. That's overcrowding by every standard. In the meantime, the money to build North County High School is being held up, ostensibly until the Board of Education comes up with a redistricting plan -- a situation which, predictably, has turned up the heat; North County residents understandably feel like budget hostages.

While each side digs in for the long fight, the obvious question remains unanswered: Why not redistrict the school system without sacrificing one of the North County middle schools? True, the county wouldn't realize $20 million in potential savings. But that may be a small price for avoiding a potentially divisive situation.

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