Redistricting with reason

March 03, 1994

This is a plea for reason on the part of the thousands of Anne Arundel County parents who are about to find themselves caught up in the always traumatic task of school redistricting.

This week, the Anne Arundel Board of Education named a committee to recommend new school district boundaries for the entire county. The process may move up to 16,000 of 69,000 students -- one-fourth of the system's enrollment -- to different schools starting in September 1995. Some communities may even be split up, with youngsters going to different schools. The thought of such disruption will go down like castor oil; it always does. The board has tried to redistrict four times in the last 22 years. Public opposition has stopped it every time.

But this time countywide redistricting must be considered. Since the mid-1980s, development has created huge school population bulges in certain areas. West County and Pasadena may be the worst, but every single feeder system has overcrowding at some RTC level. Contrary to the county's contention that this is a temporary "boomlet" nearing its end, demographers indicate that the school population will continue growing for at least five years. "If parents had a choice between having an extra student or two in a class versus their child being uprooted," board member Michael Pace said recently, "they would rather have the extra student or two." True. But what if the matter is an extra eight or 10 students? Is the cost of uprooting still greater?

Many parents' preferred solution -- more money for new schools -- is probably a pipe dream, particularly with the tax cap that voters approved in 1992; no one, including the school system itself, expects that the education department will get more than a fraction of the $382 million in capital spending it says it needs to meet demand.

All the alternatives -- year-round schooling, split sessions, redistricting -- are ugly. But if the board uses sensitivity and common sense in redrawing the lines, trying to maintain neighborhood schools as much as possible, redistricting may be the least ugly. This matter cannot be postponed again. Rather than fight the board this time, perhaps parents will be able to work with it to map out a strategy that would accomplish three things: saving money, providing optimal class sizes for students and remaining sensitive to the fact that Anne Arundel, nay all counties, are really collections of many distinct communities.

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