Parents have mixed reactions to new school redistricting plan

February 03, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Parents throughout the county are still grappling with the implications of a school redistricting plan that could shuffle around more than 1,000 students, ease crowding at some schools and fill space at others.

A week after the plan's release, some say they are pleased, while others say the proposal is inadequate to deal with overcrowding and could even make things worse at certain schools.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's plan would shift the boundaries of at least eight schools and could transfer more than 1,000 students in the 1994-95 school year.

The proposal was prompted in part by the county's increasing enrollment, projected to grow by more than 13,000 students by the year 2004.

School officials also are trying to deal with such issues as overcrowding at a middle school in the southern part of the county, empty seats at a Columbia high school and next year's opening of a new elementary school.

The school board will hold public hearings on the redistricting recommendations in March.

At this point, parent reaction to the complex plan varies widely, depending on just who is likely to be transferred -- and to where.

Elementary school

At crowded Waverly Elementary School, parents are pleased with part of the staff recommendation that would move 327 students to Manor Woods Elementary School, still under construction in Ellicott City.

"We're pretty much bursting at the seams and coping with it," said Patti Mackey, Waverly's PTA president. "We're looking forward to. . . relief and we want more relief."

But she and other parents say the proposal to redistrict 112 Saint John's Lane Elementary School students to Waverly would not help Waverly's crowding problem.

Waverly is about 60 percent over capacity this year and has six portable classrooms, she said. The school has to schedule events, such as concerts, on two or three nights to accommodate all the parents.

"We're situated in an area of the county that is still growing rapidly," she said. "We would be overcrowded just with the normal growth of our area, let alone have 112 students sent to us."

In defending the proposal, Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin said Waverly is a large building that can accommodate more students than Saint John's Lane, which is overcrowded by 173 students.

"We've switched the burden from Saint John's Lane to Waverly," he said. "That is the weakness [of the staff recommendation]."

Saint John's Lane parents, meanwhile, are themselves divided about the proposal, said PTA President Valerie Linaburg.

"Shifting the burden to Waverly because they're a bigger facility sounds great," she said. "But there's still a problem that Waverly is not getting a whole lot of relief."

The school's PTA will hold a meeting for parents next Tuesday to discuss redistricting.

Middle school

At Hammond Middle School, parents are just beginning to look at the staff proposal to either redistrict about 160 students to Patuxent Valley Middle School or put six portable classrooms at Hammond.

The school is expected to be 220 students, or 38 percent, over capacity next school year.

Although parents say they are looking for alternatives to both suggestions, "we are neither for or against," said Michel Gledhill, PTA president at Hammond.

She said, however, that there is little space at the school for portable classrooms, noting "we can't put portables on the parking lot. Our only other option is to put them on the blacktop, but that would be using our recess space."

The PTA is holding a meeting on the issue of redistricting on Tuesday at the school.

High school

At the high school level, the issue of how redistricting will affect Centennial and Wilde Lake high schools continues to divide the community.

Parents from the Longfellow, Beaverbrook and Hobbit's Glen neighborhoods favor a recommendation to redistrict students who live in Dorsey Hall from Centennial to Wilde Lake next school year.

"It's a question of space availability -- you have seats [at Wilde Lake] and you have to fill them," said Marianne Hollerbach, a parent.

But Dorsey Hall parents, who are still looking at the proposal, want their children to remain at Centennial, said parent Kathleen Maizel.

Meanwhile, the staff has presented two alternatives to that proposal.

One would keep Dorsey Hall students at Centennial, where an addition is being built that would give the school more space by 1998.

That alternative also calls for Mount Hebron students who live south of Route 40, including Main Street in Ellicott City, to be reassigned to Centennial, to ease crowding at Mount Hebron.

But school officials say the alternative would leave Centennial over capacity, while leaving empty seats at Wilde Lake.

The second alternative was prompted by public pressure to balance the minority enrollment throughout the county, increasing the minority population at River Hill and decreasing it at Wilde Lake, said Dr. Kalin.

It would cut minority enrollment at Wilde Lake by a third. That would be done by reassigning students from Dorsey Hall to Wilde Lake and transferring minority students from the Swansfield Elementary School district to River Hill High School.

The second alternative would reduce Wilde Lake's population to 750 starting in the year 2000, and would move the technology magnet program from River Hill to Wilde Lake.

Many Swansfield area parents oppose that second alternative, saying River Hill would run out of space as the neighborhood grows. Eventually, they say, their children would have to be redistricted to Wilde Lake again.

Parents in the Swansfield area who back the s recommendation say it would bolster Wilde Lake's enrollment, letting the school offer more courses. It also would keep the community in the Wilde Lake district.

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