New school boundaries vote tonight

March 24, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

When the Howard County school board votes on new school boundary lines at today's 7:30 p.m. meeting, Alistair Leslie, a parent, hopes the five members instead will consider his proposal to change the school system's five-year building plan.

Armed with graphs and transparencies, and using the school system's own data, the Dorsey Hall father of two has come up with an alternative plan he says better meets the school system's high school enrollment needs, saves as much as $8 million in operating costs and defers up to $18 million in bond debt until 1997.

School officials aren't so sure. They say Mr. Leslie's cost-savings estimates are inflated and say he narrowly focuses on crowding in the county's northern region, rather than on enrollment problems countywide.

But Mr. Leslie, an environmental scientist and consultant with the U.S. Department of Energy, insists on the validity of his "prudent alternative plan," which follows the school system's five-year building plan but alters the construction schedule.

Tonight's vote will mark the end of a complex two-year school redistricting process marked by tension between Dorsey Hall and other Columbia communities, and dominated by the debate over transfers involving Wilde Lake and Centennial high schools.

Although the board appears unlikely to adopt Mr. Leslie's plan, Dorsey Hall parents see it as their last hope to keep their children at Centennial High School and to preserve the sense of community they have developed over the years.

School officials have recommended that the school board redistrict about 400 students from four communities, including Dorsey Hall, into Wilde Lake High School next school year to increase Wilde Lake enrollment and to reduce crowding at Centennial, where the four communities currently attend.

The school system's construction plan also calls for three new high schools -- River Hill, a new Wilde Lake and an eastern high school in Long Reach -- to open in 1996, and for additions at Centennial and Mount Hebron to be be completed in 1998.

In contrast, Mr. Leslie would build additions at Mount Hebron and Centennial high schools in 1996, delay construction of a new Wilde Lake High School until 1998 and open a second eastern high school in the year 2000.

Mr. Leslie argues that the school system's proposal would lock the county into building a new and bigger school, Wilde Lake, before it is necessary.

He says his proposal would give the county flexibility by building additions and would avoid what he sees as the social and economic costs of redistricting Dorsey Hall into Wilde Lake and parts of Mount Hebron into Centennial.

"Our policy in Howard County has been to move people here to there like pawns," he said. "It's a very sad indictment we don't have a better system and people don't know what goes on behind the scenes."

School officials and the school board, after some discussion, appeared to dismiss his proposal at last week's work session, saying it would not relieve redistricting as quickly as possible.

"My overall reaction is that the 'prudent alternative plan' takes a narrow view impacting on students at only Centennial and Mount Hebron at the expense of other students," Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin said.

He added the proposal fails to take into account several factors, including projections that Mount Hebron will still be 200 students over capacity in six of the next 11 years, despite a planned addition that would increase the school's capacity of 1,015 by some 200 students.

Also under Mr. Leslie's proposal, Atholton would be over its capacity by 49 percent in 1997, and Glenelg by 45 percent that same year.

Mr. Leslie suggests that school officials, as they already are doing at several schools around the county, use movable classrooms at Atholton and Glenelg for one year and then redistrict the students into River Hill High School, scheduled to open in 1996.

Mr. Kalin rejects that idea, saying River Hill would have more than 1,800 students if Atholton and Glenelg students were redistricted there. River Hill is being built with a capacity of roughly 1,400 seats, 300 of which have been reserved for a technology education magnet program scheduled to start in 1996.

"We've been looking at his plan for 16 months," Mr. Kalin said. "We've put a great deal of thought into it. . . . Basically, it's a difference in planning assumptions but also an end-product that made me advise the board to not change."

In addition to the redistricting decisions involving the high schools, the school board tonight also will vote on boundary line changes for as many as seven other schools.

Effective this September, school officials propose to move some 327 Waverly elementary students and about 60 West Friendship elementary students to Manor Woods Elementary School, still under construction and expected to open in the fall.

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