School board committee to take up redistricting

March 01, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

County schools will begin the potentially explosive task of redrawing school attendance boundaries tomorrow when the school board names a 12-person steering committee to come up with recommendations for new boundaries.

The steering committee probably will have subcommittees looking into aspects of redistricting, drawing more county RTC residents into what always has been a controversial process. As many as 16,000 students could be moved to new schools in a plan to take effect in September 1995.

The 69,000-student school system is in the midst of a population boom, with most of the schools at or over their capacity. In each of the past five years, the number of students has grown by 1,000. And, birth statistics indicate that trend will continue another five years, said planning officer George Hatch. Every high school feeder system in the county is overcrowded at at least one level.

The school system would need about $382 million over the next five years to renovate old schools and build new ones to meet the projected demand, Mr. Hatch said. Given the county's tax cap and state and local revenue projections, the schools won't see nearly that much money and will have to devise better ways of using existing space and configure districts that make the best use of available classroom space.

The committee will be asked to report to the school board by November; the superintendent would formulate a plan on which there would be hearings early in 1995. The school board has to approve school boundaries by April 30 of any given year for them to go into effect that September.

The move to redistrict the school system comes when county schools have a $96,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Education to study another emotion-laden issue: year-round schools. It also comes when schools are being asked to devote more rooms to science labs and computer education.

Keeping communities and school populations united as children move from elementary to middle to high school is an issue that has come up before and is likely to surface again.

"In the future, with tight construction dollars, we are not necessarily going to keep communities together in a school," said Anne Young, who heads the countywide Citizen Advisory Committee. "Large communities, such as some with 400 homes, may be split into different schools. I would hate to see our communities split up, but I don't know how it's going to happen otherwise."

"We are expecting a lot of discomfort. A lot of people will be moving," Mr. Hatch said.

The school system last did countywide redistricting nearly a decade ago, and has tinkered with boundaries in one feeder system or another nearly every year since.

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