New year, same issue

January 05, 1994

The new year finds the Howard County Board of Education advanced not much beyond where it was at this time last year on the issue of school redistricting. Most significant is the unresolved controversy surrounding the proposed boundary changes for Wilde Lake and Centennial high schools.

The board has chosen so far to handle the problem in piecemeal fashion, leaving the big question -- whether to redistrict the Dorsey Hall community of Columbia into Wilde Lake -- unanswered until this year.

Whether that transfer goes forward as expected will test the mettle of the board in doing what is in the best interest of all students, regardless of the political fallout.

Parents in Dorsey Hall have fought with great vigor any intentions to redistrict their community. Indeed, they may have reason to feel secure in the status quo, which would allow their children either to be redistricted into a new western high school by 1996 or to stay at Centennial. But they would be badly mistaken in feeling so self-assured.

While recent remarks attributed to the chairman of the school board, Dana Hanna, might have suggested that the hopes of Dorsey Hall may "pan out," Mr. Hanna insists that he intended to send no such message.

The redistricting of other communities into Wilde Lake -- Hobbits Glen, Longfellow and Beaver Brook, for example -- are all but certain to go forward, Mr. Hanna said.

However, the tentative decision made last spring about Dorsey Hall does not bind the board to any scenario yet.

The task ahead for the board, leading to a final decision on March 24, will be a difficult one. Many options still remain unexplored, and the final vote will have political as well as fiscal ramifications.

The need to respond to the schools' growing enrollment while being mindful of the requirement to curb the enormous costs of school construction and renovation limits the available solutions. It is too early to predict the outcome not only for Dorsey Hall, but for other communities and schools.

School officials will begin shedding some light on the situation when they present proposals to the board later this month.

Mr. Hanna is right in urging anyone "who could remotely, possibly, in their wildest dreams be involved" in the redistricting process to take part.

It may be their last chance.

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