School closing favored over student transfers

January 29, 1995|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Parents say Howard County school officials should close aging Ellicott Mills Middle School this fall instead of sending scores of new students to the school under a redistricting proposal unveiled last week.

"Ellicott Mills' being shut down would not upset me at all," said Linda Betts, who has a seventh-grader at the school. "It would delight me. The school as far as I am concerned is substandard."

Her objections and those of other middle school parents were the only opposition to emerge last week to the latest school redistricting proposal, which also would change boundaries for one elementary school next fall and for all of the county's high schools in fall 1996.

The school system has changed school boundaries annually to keep up with new schools and to balance student populations among schools. The school system expects enrollment to increase by about 11,000, to 47,000, by 2004.

The controversy this year has centered on Ellicott Mills, a 55-year-old building scheduled to be replaced in 1999. School officials are trying to accommodate the transfer of 421 Ellicott Mills students who are scheduled to move to the new Elkridge Landing Middle School when it opens in the fall.

To fill that enrollment gap, school officials have proposed moving 123 Mayfield Woods Middle School students to Ellicott Mills. But even with the additional students, Ellicott Mills still would open with fewer than 450 students this fall, which the county school system considers the minimum for a middle school.

An alternative proposal, also intended to boost Ellicott Mills' enrollment, would send students to Ellicott Mills from the Columbia Hills neighborhood. Those students now attend Dunloggin Middle School.

Parents object to both of those plans, saying Ellicott Mills should be closed and its students sent to other area schools that are under-enrolled, such as Burleigh Manor Middle School.

"They just want to move our bodies to have higher enrollment," said Patty Hetzler, a Columbia Hills parent. "We just hope the board takes the recommendation and does not move Columbia Hills until there is a replacement facility."

Joseph Annelli, Ellicott Mills' PTA president, said there wouldn't even be an issue with Ellicott Mills if the school were structurally up to par with other schools.

"The real issue is the replacement of Ellicott Mills, and not the redistricting of students," Mr. Annelli said. "If all Howard County schools met the same standard, then [school officials] will not have a problem with redistricting."

He is concerned that if school officials leave Ellicott Mills with fewer than 450 students, those students will suffer because class offerings and resources will be reduced.

"If the student population were to drop at Ellicott Mills, then it would be very difficult for the county to justify having adequate staffing to provide the same quality education," Mr. Annelli said.

Ellicott Mills also was the subject of debate several months ago, when school officials wanted to postpone for several years building a replacement school, saying they needed to spread out the cost of a $300 million capital budget program. But the school board unanimously voted to build a replacement school by 1999.

A less controversial redistricting proposal at the elementary school level would transfer about 75 students in the Columbia Gateway development to Jeffers Hill Elementary School. Those students would have gone to Guilford Elementary School with the current boundary lines.

Ann Skold, PTA president at Guilford, said she thinks the proposal is a good one but that she does not oppose having the students attend Guilford.

"It was a concern that it would create a serious overcrowding situation at Guilford," she said. "Putting another 75 students into Guilford would have created a hardship for the students."

No high school students are scheduled to be redistricted until 1996, when River Hill and Long Reach high schools open and work on Wilde Lake High School is completed.

The school board is scheduled to hold a hearing on the redistricting proposal March 7 and to vote on it March 23.

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