Redistricting Proposal Draws Protest From Parents

June 23, 1991|By Jodi Bizar | Jodi Bizar,Contributing writer

About 700 parents, many of them upset and vocal, turned out for a Board of Education work session Wednesday to protest a proposal to shift students from the Churchville area to Aberdeen and Edgewood if no money is available to buy relocatable classrooms or build new schools.

Southampton Middle was so jammed with parents that most had to stand in a hall because the school auditorium, where the hearing was conducted, seats only 200.

Board members said they had been warned about a huge turnout and scheduled the meeting at the school instead of the school administration building in Bel Air, which seats only 100.

The study, conducted by school system administrators, was brought up at the Board of Education's regular monthly meeting June 10 by Deputy Superintendent Alden H. Halsey.

Board members called the special meeting Wednesday night to clarify to residents that they were not about to go ahead with the study's recommendations and are first looking at a $110 millionbuilding program that calls for 13 new schools over the next six years.

"Nobody wants it. The superintendent is not recommending it," said school board member Keith Williams about the Churchville-to-Edgewood redistricting proposal. "But people got hold of the report and saw one paragraph outlining the possibility of relocating some students, and everything got blown out of proportion."

Williams said the study was in response to questions about empty classrooms in some schools and as a justification for building so many new schools.

Williams said no school system administrators or board members supported the one option in the study that many parents blasted at Wednesday's meeting.

Abingdon resident Michelle Wingate was among the distressed parents who attended Wednesday's meeting. Wingate told board members she moved to Bel Air because of the quality of schools in that district and that she would oppose having them bused to Edgewood.

"IfI had wanted my kids to go to Edgewood schools, I would have moved to Edgewood and paid $15,000 to $20,000 less for the identical house,"she said.

The school board is expected to vote on its capital budget recommendations at its July 8 meeting. For the 1992-1993 school year, the Board of Education is considering seeking approval to construct two new elementary schools and an addition to Bel Air Middle School at a cost of about $15 million.

But if state and county dollarsare not available to pay for the projects, the board would have to consider other options, board members said.

The state is facing a $120 million deficit in this year's budget. Last year, the state appropriated only $60 million statewide for school capital improvement projects.

The state pays 65 percent of the cost of construction of schools in Harford; the county pays the remaining 35 percent, plus the costs of land, design, furniture and equipment.

"Why wasn't the construction approved five years ago when the influx of new families started moving in?" Wingate asked the board Wednesday.

Halsey explained that the state will not approve construction of a new school unless there are enough students to fill it when it opens.

Richard C. Molinaro, school board president, said some residents also were agitated because they thought redistricting was going to be implemented Wednesday night.

"You see what fear and paranoia will do," he said after the meeting. "I think a lot of people went away feeling more comfortable."

Another meeting on the issue will take place June 24 atC. Milton Wright High School, on Route 543 near Bel Air, so that more residents can attend. The school auditorium accommodates 600.

Staff reporter Carol Bowers contributed to this article.

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