Making School Redistricting Work

March 02, 1995

Opponents of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education's county-wide redistricting proposal give plenty of reasons why the plan should be shelved.

Some folks in the community of Seven Oaks charge that the plan is racist. Parents of pupils at South Shore Elementary School in Crownsville complain that it would split their neighborhood. And the county's Council of PTAs opposes the proposal because this year's budget lacks money for the school additions the plan suggests.

This controversy is not surprising. No one likes redistricting and parents naturally worry when their children are moved from familiar schools to those less well-known. Unfortunately, as often happens in these matters, what should have been a constructive debate on redistricting has turned into an emotional argument filled with mistrust and unfounded allegations on both sides.

Instead of making accusations of racism or broken communities, the parents ought to be honest and tell the school board why they really oppose the plan. Do they fear that their children's new schools will be unsafe or provide fewer educational opportunities? These are legitimate questions, which the school board must address.

Board members also need to be forthright and say what this plan will and will not do. School board President Michael A. Pace initially represented this proposal to move 2,900 students as an antidote to population imbalances within the system and said that no further changes would be needed for five years. In reality, the plan is neither a one-shot deal nor a guarantee against future movements. Because the plan depends on school construction, it will require at least five years to implement. After that, students may have to be moved in succeeding years as new schools are built.

Parents and educators need to recognize this plan for what it is -- part of a continuing effort to relieve school crowding in a growing county. The plan is not perfect. Some schools will still have vacant seats. Others will remain crowded. Some neighborhoods will be divided and some children will be bused a good distance. But when the alternatives are considered -- double school sessions, year-around schools, massive busing, massive spending -- this plan may constitute a reasonable (if temporary) answer to a complex problem.

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