Officials divided on redistricting School board to cast final vote Thursday

January 23, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The broad outlines of new high school districts for the fall seem to be set, but the Howard County school board still has a lot of decisions to make on details by the time it votes on new boundary lines Thursday night.

In its third and final work session on boundary lines last night, board members were deeply divided over which neighborhoods to redistrict for the fall.

The biggest debate appears to be whether to move every community now or to wait until a neighborhood absolutely needs to be redistricted because a high school is overcrowded. By late last night, neighborhoods whose fate remained unclear included Columbia Hills, Stonecrest, Sebring and the Hilltop area of Columbia.

The board must adjust high school boundary lines for next fall because of the opening of two new high schools, Long Reach and River Hill. At least 1,400 high school students will have to change schools under proposals being considered by the board.

Elementary school boundary lines in the Elkridge-Ellicott City area also will be shifted because of the opening of Ilchester Elementary School, leading to the transfer of more than 750 students. The proposed elementary school boundary lines generally have been praised by the community and have been little little debated by the board.

No changes are expected to be made in middle school boundary lines for the fall.

During last night's session, board members repeatedly described themselves as "torn" and "divided" over the decisions they must make.

Board members remained committed to the broad outlines of the redistricting proposal -- such as dividing Glenelg and River Hill high schools along Triadelphia Road -- but they struggled over what to do with specific neighborhoods.

Board member Sandra French exemplified the difficult choices that board members were facing. In the beginning of the work session, she insisted that she was leaning toward doing as much redistricting as possible this year.

But an hour later, as members haggled over moving Stonecrest from Mount Hebron High School to Centennial High School and Columbia Hills from Centennial to Wilde Lake High School, Ms. French suggested that the board might want to wait until overcrowding made moves necessary.

"I know an hour ago I said to move them all now but maybe not," Ms. French said, joking, "I can flip-flop very easily,"

By late last night, board members had not addressed the boundary lines between Howard and Long Reach high schools. Elkridge parents are concerned that the proposal may split their children between the two schools, rather than keeping them together at one or the other.

The session began with an hour of testimony from parents of students who would be affected by the proposed boundary changes. The board held this second hearing because members feared some parents were not able to testify during the first hearing, held Jan. 11 in the midst of blizzard week.

Many of the parents who testified last night complained that there had been too little time for them to consider the proposed high school districts, saying that the proposal changed every time the board met.

"The Sebring neighborhood was never mentioned as having the potential to be moved either this year or in the future until last Tuesday" during the board's last work session, said Joan Lancos, a parent living in the Sebring neighborhood and chairwoman of the county's planning board. "Frankly, we've been blindsided."

The board is scheduled to make a decision on boundary lines for the fall at its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

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