Board OKs city school rezoning Proposal drew months of debate

April 02, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

The Baltimore school board unanimously approved a comprehensive school rezoning plan last night despite the continued objections of some parents and City Council members.

The approval followed months of sometimes angry debate over the plan that changes the boundaries of 24 elementary schools and virtually all the city's middle and high schools.

The schools were last rezoned in September 1974. Since then, enrollment has dropped by more than 50,000 students and population shifts have left some schools with empty seats and others overcrowded.

"We think it's a good plan and I think the process worked," Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said of the revised plan. "It certainly got shaped by the communities and their desires."

But the board's action was immediately denounced by Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, head of the council's Education Committee and a critic of the rezoning process. "It's a lame attempt at face-saving and it's an attempt at appeasement, and I don't think the community will be appeased by this plan."

He said the plan does nothing to relieve overcrowding in some schools and retains large middle schools. The school system failed to involve parents adequately in developing the plan, he added.

And Ralph E. Moore Jr., co-chair of an advisory committee on rezoning, criticized a process he said ignored the advice and concerns of parents.

"If this is better, it's better by accident," he said of the revision. "It's better by a whole lot of pain and a whole lot of contention."

The plan phases in new attendance boundaries for elementary, middle and high schools over a five-year period, one grade at a time, starting with kindergarten, sixth- and ninth-grade students this September. Students already enrolled in K-8 programs, middle schools and high schools affected by rezoning will be allowed to graduate without being transferred.

The plan retains the city's seven popular elementary-middle or kindergarten-through-eighth-grade programs, and expands the K-8 program as demanded by parents.

Starting this September, the K-8 concept will be phased in at the current Dickey Hill, Morrell Park, Glenmount, Violetville and Charles Carroll of Carrollton elementary schools.

A K-8 school also will be phased in at Ashburton Elementary, when the new school building is ready for occupancy.

The first plan, issued in December, ran into immediate criticism from parents and some council members, and the debate has dominated the school agenda since then. It would have closed nine schools, changed the boundaries of 57 others, and returned all schools to traditional elementary, middle and high school grade levels.

That plan also would have eliminated the seven popular elementary-middle school and kindergarten-through-eighth grade programs.

The revised proposal approved last night also will:

* Keep Pimlico Middle and Malcolm X Elementary open. Both had been scheduled to close.

* Delay the proposed closing of Carter G. Woodson School, giving education department staff time to study the effect that massive housing renovations in Cherry Hill will have on enrollments in the area.

* Close just two other schools, both of them primary schools. Duke Ellington would close in September and Luther Craven Mitchell Primary Center at a later date.

* Keep Sharp-Leadenhall School open to serve emotionally handicapped students, and close three other special-education schools only when specific schools are ready to provide "all appropriate services" for those students.

According to school department documents, the revised rezoning plan will result in 252 students being assigned to a school other than the one they are currently attending.

The final plan represents a major departure from the original one, which drew heated protest from parents and other city officials.

Shortly after the original plan was issued, school officials backed off on proposed elimination of the K-8 programs after opposition from parents and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Parents continued to hammer away at the proposal at a series of public forums and hearings, that started in December.

Among their complaints: The fear that the original plan would result in bloated middle schools, long commutes for students and the closure of popular schools.

Parents and council members also argued that the public was being locked out of the rezoning process, and urged that rezoning be put off until September 1994.

Just two weeks ago, the school board appeared poised to do just that at a meeting where a majority of members attempted to vote, only to have the board's president adjourn the meeting on a technicality.

But board member Charles L. Maker, who had pushed for that vote, last night said major changes were made in the past two weeks. He cited the five-year phase-in, and the fact that students already enrolled in middle school, high school and K-8 schools will be allowed to graduate, without transferring.

He also said the school system left the door open for changes when parents and the community can identify problems with the plan.

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