Bel Air parents contend school redistricting would fail them

March 13, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

Bel Air parents came to a redistricting meeting for Emmorton Elementary School armed with petitions, maps, charts, bar graphs, pie graphs, written reports and at least a dozen overhead transparencies to fight proposed boundary changes that would transfer more than 500 pupils to the school.

Most of the speakers said redistricting was fine -- as long it didn't involve their children. About 275 parents, children, teachers and administrators attended the nearly three-hour meeting Monday night at Wakefield Elementary in Bel Air.

Parents of children at Homestead/Wakefield Elementary and Ring Factory Elementary -- the two schools from which students would be transferred -- said they had good reasons for which the redistricting plan would not work for them.

Many of the 25 people who spoke said forcing their children to attend Emmorton would erode community spirit by taking children too far from their neighborhoods. Other parents said the distance to the new school was too far and would force their children to travel congested roads such as Route 24.

The school board will vote on the new boundary lines at its April 18 meeting at Southampton Middle in Bel Air. The 600-student school, scheduled to open in the fall, is being built near Harford Glen Environmental Education Center on South Wheel Road.

A school-sanctioned committee, which included parents and administrators, spent several weeks in the fall redrawing school boundaries to carve out a school district for Emmorton Elementary.

The committee's proposal calls for transferring about 400 students from Ring Factory and 103 from Homestead/Wakefield to Emmorton Elementary.

Ring Factory, at 1400 Emmorton Road, is over capacity by 43 percent with 841 students in a school designed to hold 588. Ring Factory has nine portable classrooms to hold the extra students.

Homestead/Wakefield, a two-building school at 900 S. Main St., is 27 percent overcrowded with 1,190 students and a capacity of 940.

Monday's meeting was to have been the last public hearing but another public meeting might be held before the school board votes in April, said Donald R. Morrison, schools spokesman.

He said another meeting could be necessary if the redistricting plan recommended by the school superintendent, Ray R. Keech, is "substantially different" from the committee's proposal.

"We don't want to take people by surprise," Mr. Morrison said.

But that's exactly what has happened, some parents said, complaining that they found out their neighborhoods would be redistricted only after the committee had made its final report.

Edward D. Webster, a Broadview resident who presented the school board with a detailed 16-page report, said redistricting would force his children to change schools for a second time -- from William S. James Elementary to Ring Factory Elementary to Emmorton Elementary.

He said neighbors and others had spent more than 500 hours developing their proposal, which would basically leave established neighborhoods, such as Broadview, at Ring Factory Elementary.

Mr. Webster, who has lived in Broadview for 15 years, said communities such as his, where no new homes are planned, should be parked at a school and left there. New or growing communities should be sent to the new schools.

Beverly Webster, his wife, said she fears Broadview will be redistricted again when the school system builds another school.

She said school officials promised the Broadview community that it would not be moved to another school when children left William S. James to attend Ring Factory.

Mr. Morrison said he knew of no such guarantees.

"No one here can find anything in writing showing that promises were made. If promises were made, that's unfortunate because there is no way anyone can guarantee where residential growth will occur," Mr. Morrison said.

The school system plans to open two Bel Air-area elementaries in 1997. One would be in the Forest Lakes area near Fallston and the other would be built along east Route 924, in the Boxhill South area.

Another elementary school is planned for west Bel Air, near the Bel Air Memorial Gardens to open in 1998. Two additional schools in the Abingdon area are tentatively scheduled to open around 2000.

Dr. J. Douglas Abbott, who is the spokesman for several communities southwest of Bel Air, said Homestead/Wakefield students should be left where they are until the Forest Lakes area elementary school is built.

Dr. Abbott, who had 210 signatures of people protesting the redistricting, said most families in the western district have close ties to the Fallston area because their churches, baby sitters and recreational activities are there.

Generally speaking, students who live south of Bel Air will be redistricted under the committee's proposal.

The following communities would be included in the plan:

Bel Air South, Brierwood, Broadview, Calvert Walk, Camelot, Cedar Spring, Country Walk, Joppa Hills, Lakeside Vista, Laurel Woods, Millwood, Mountain View, Open Acres Manor, Overview Manor, Plumtree Estates, Preston Manor, Singer Woods, Twin Brook Estates, Valley View and Woodridge Manor.

Also, students who live between Laurel Bush Road and Route 924, bounded by Wheel Road and St. Mary's Church Road, and students who live on Tollgate Road, bounded by Ring Factory Road and Plumtree Road, would go to the new school.

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