Howard County school board members are focusing on crowded Ellicott City and West Friendship elementary schools and enrollment growth at Hammond Middle School in this year's school redistricting battle.
The board is less concerned this year than it was a year ago about enrollment problems at Centennial and Wilde Lake high schools, board Chairman Dana F. Hanna said.
"The perception last year was that the high school was the hot-button issue," he said. But galloping enrollment at St. John's Lane, Waverly and West Friendship elementaries has claimed this year's spotlight, he said.
School board members began considering a number of options for the three schools, which are in the northern and western parts of the county, last week in preparation for a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hammond High School.
"It was an opening fire," Mr. Hanna said of a two-hour Thursday work session at which board members discussed a number of redistricting possibilities. "It's one step in the whole process. The rest is getting community input and . . . balancing the equation as much as we can."
Waverly is over capacity by 315 students, West Friendship by nearly 100 and St. John's Lane by 173.
A new elementary school, Manor Woods, is scheduled to open in the northern part of the county in the fall. Designed for 500 students, it will relieve some of the crowding, but the problem won't be solved until another new school opens in that part of the county in 1997.
The board's task has been complicated by the Waverly Woods II development in Ellicott City, which is expected to bring additional students into the school system.
"It's going to be very difficult for the Board of Education to make a decision," said Patti Mackey, PTA president at Waverly Elementary.
Board members also sought to keep together the Woodmark neighborhood in western Howard County, which would be split under current redistricting proposals.
Staff recommendations call for about 60 students from Woodmark to be transferred to Manor Woods from West Friendship, which they now attend.
Board member Sandra French suggested that the boundary lines be changed for Woodmark to let students from that neighborhood attend either West Friendship or Manor Woods.
Some parents who favor West Friendship oppose that idea, she noted.
"Some people want to go to the new school; others want to go to West Friendship," Ms. French said. "My concern is, wherever anyone wants to go, that the development not be divided."
At the work session, board members also considered possible sites for a new southeastern middle school that would open in 1997. The new school would help relieve crowding at Hammond Middle School, which is projected to be 220 students, or 38 percent, over capacity this fall.
Possible sites include one near the Laurel Race Course and another in the Hammond Middle School area east of Interstate 95.
Students along Gorman Road would attend the new school if it were built near the racetrack. If it were built in the Hammond Middle School area, they would attend Patuxent Valley Middle School.
"If we have an ideal location, it would be in the Hammond service area," said Dr. Maurice Kalin, associate superintendent.
Dr. Kalin has not made any redistricting plans for the southeastern area this year, in hopes of choosing a site this summer for the new middle school. Once the site is chosen, a redistricting plan can be written and implemented for Hammond middle, he said.
Hammond parents were cheered by the news of the impending site selection for the new middle school.
"I think we were encouraged," said Irene Voneiff, boundary line representative for the Hammond Middle School PTA. "Once a site is found, Dr. Kalin can propose redistricting for the 1995-96 school year."
In the meantime, parents of Hammond Middle School students said, they plan to ask the school board for seven portable classrooms, lockers and other materials to help the school handle the 220 extra students this fall.