School crowding criticized

May 08, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

Concerned about overcrowding at St. John's Lane Elementary School, 108 families of students attending the school have filed an appeal with the state superintendent of schools, calling for redistricting of their community.

The Howard County Department of Education staff had recommended such a plan to the Board of Education, but the board rejected that proposal in March.

The appeal, which would force the board to consider redistricting, is the latest twist in the debate between the school system and parents at the crowded elementary school, which serves students from the neighborhoods near St. Johns Lane in Ellicott City.

The elementary school is nearly 170 students above its official capacity of 663 this school year and is expected to be 215 above capacity in the fall.

Parents told the state superintendent in their 20-page appeal that the best way to alleviate the overcrowding is to redraw their community's school boundaries.

The extra students put a strain on the school, said Ann Jones Koch, one of the parents who organized the appeal. "What we want to accomplish is to at least send the issue back to the [county] Board of Education for consideration," she said.

The parents are waiting for a response to their April 20 appeal from the county school board. The board must reply by May 19.

The parents who filed the appeal would like to see the boundaries redrawn so that some of the children currently zoned for St. John's Lane instead would attend Waverly Elementary School in Ellicott City, or the new Manor Woods Elementary School, which is due to open in Ellicott City this fall.

But school board Chairman Dana Hanna said that he stands by the board's decision not to redistrict the St. John's community.

"It's overcrowded; there's no doubt about that," Mr. Hanna. "But I have no intention of redoing the redistricting process . . . that's just putting a finger in the dike."

Mr. Hanna, who received a copy of the appeal about a week ago, has said that, during the redistricting process for the 1993-1994 school year, parents were led to believe that St. John's Lane would get relief from crowding in the 1994-1995 school year.

But that was before the board voted to speed up the construction schedule for a northeastern elementary school, now scheduled to open in 1997, instead of 1998 as originally planned. That will provide what Mr. Hanna said he sees as appropriate relief.

Choosing not to redistrict the school will help maintain a "sense of community" within the St. John's area, Mr. Hanna said.

Two weeks ago, the school board approved a plan that would set aside 40 places at Manor Woods Elementary in first through fifth grades and nine places in kindergarten for transfer students from throughout the district. That school will have a capacity of 588.

Thinking they would escape overcrowding at St. John's Lane, some parents had looked to Manor Woods as the school to which they could transfer their children. But the limited number of transfer places will make it difficult for parents to find room there.

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