The Redistricting Thicket

March 14, 1995

No one would be surprised if Maurice Kalin, associate superintendent for the Howard public schools, has some of the thickest skin in the county. As mastermind of the school system's redistricting effort, Dr. Kalin has had years to toughen up in the face of angry parents.

Burgeoning student enrollment, among the fastest-growing in the state, has kept him busy shifting boundary lines and moving students from school to school.

Scarcely a decision he makes is welcomed.

Despite his obvious skills as a technician, we hope that Dr. Kalin's experience in this area hasn't inured him to the upheaval his decisions might create for families in his charge.

Often, the redrawing of school boundaries is the unavoidable consequence of overcrowding. New schools open or students get transferred to schools with low enrollments. But these moves don't come without a price, especially if children are forced to change schools several times during their academic careers. That's the complaint of parents who testified at a recent public hearing before school officials, and they deserve the courtesy of having their feelings seriously considered.

Schools, especially in the new growth areas devoid of other public institutions, serve as focal points for community identity. Part of that process of community-building gets shattered by redistricting. Most neighborhoods recover, but redistricting the same community several times within a short time period should be avoided.

Some parents in the community of Timber Run say this has already happened to them. School officials should have little problem determining the validity of their claims.

The system's guidelines say that elementary and middle school students should not be moved more than once every three years, although that standard seems to provide ridiculously liberal latitude for the administration.

If the current redistricting is approved, officials must address concerns from parents of children slated to attend Ellicott Mills Middle School. This outdated facility must be brought up to county standards in terms of supplies and resources while the community awaits a new school, for which construction is slated to begin in 1999. To do less will further fuel the anger generated every time a boundary line is changed.

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