Redistricting schools stirs parent action Four county areas are seeking answers to overcrowding

'I would like a new school'

Shifts affect children, but also property values

November 11, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The only thing on which everyone involved in school redistricting agrees is that it is a highly emotional issue for most parents.

"In the past, the central office would just make a recommendation, and the communities would just go bonkers," school board President Joseph H. Foster said.

Now the agitation starts earlier.

"You are touching on the two biggest things that hit on people: their children and their home value," said Thomas Rhoades, director of program planning for county schools. Parents worry about everything from the school's reputation to its distance from home, the teachers and whether their children will be in school with friends.

This year, community groups in four areas -- Pasadena, Meade, South County and Annapolis -- are making recommendations to Superintendent Carol S. Parham for altering attendance areas in fall 1997. Parham must review the proposals before making her recommendations to the school board Dec. 4.

So far, only the Pasadena group has a recommendation -- with reservations.

The group would like to shift all of Riviera Beach Elementary's students and a portion of Sunset Elementary's pupils out of the Northeast feeder system. These children now go on to a crowded George Fox Middle School and then Northeast High School. Under the proposal, the students would attend Chesapeake Bay Middle and Chesapeake Senior High schools.

But moving 270 children out of George Fox, which is already hovering near its capacity of 1,053, is probably a temporary fix because the area is still growing.

"For all this hassle, it's only going to help for what, two years?" said Virginia Barrett, representing Chesapeake Senior High on the committee.

Even without those 270 students, by 1999, George Fox will again be near its capacity. The school is already using a half-dozen portable classrooms.

The group also wants the board to study adding a 350-student wing to George Fox Middle as a long-term solution to the crowding.

Assuming it gets the 270 George Fox students, Chesapeake High School would hit its state-authorized capacity of 2,267 by 2000. But it may start to feel the pinch before that, for example, in crowded classrooms.

Meanwhile, Northeast High School, with 1,272 students this year, could experience underenrollment if 270 students are shifted. At least 1,000 students are needed to maintain a variety of courses with reasonable class sizes, an issue that becomes more critical in a school with a four-period day, such as Northeast has.

Pasadena parents who have worked on redistricting proposals for nearly a decade are exasperated. The latest proposal is similar to one that failed last year.

The Meade group reached no agreements last week on adjusting boundaries for its 10 racially, economically and socially diverse elementary schools. Vaughan Brown, the group's leader, doubts it will meet tonight's deadline for voting on dividing children between Meade Area Middle, which will open next fall, and MacArthur Middle.

While MacArthur will be the most technologically advanced middle school by this spring, it is still 30 years old and lacks air conditioning.

And all parents feel entitled to have their children at the new school.

Fort Meade, which is home to hundreds of children, provided the land, and county residents feel that their taxes have been supporting the school system.

"My feeling is that my developer, Russett, paid a lot of impact fees, as did Piney Orchard. I'm not going to be a liar. I would like a new school," said Brock Bridge parent Jeanne Mignon. "My feelings are not unique."

But "they have to have the right mixes at each school in socioeconomics and such," cautions MacArthur Principal M. Jacques Smith.

"We have to make sure we are not creating an elitist school and a school that draws only from a poor population," she said.

South County parents are at such loggerheads that one group of opponents took its concerns to last week's school board meeting. Their remarks prompted Foster to put his head on the table in frustration.

A group at work for a year on options to relieve crowding at Southern Middle is considering a recommendation to shift about 240 students to Central Middle for a few years. They are hoping the community can reach a decision at a public meeting Wednesday.

Opponents say the information on which that recommendation was based is faulty, called the shift "silly," said they needed more time and suggested that Carrie Weedon Science Center be reopened as a school.

The long-term answer, the committee says, is either an addition to Southern Middle or a new middle school.

By comparison, work toward recommending boundary changes in Annapolis schools seems easy. There, a committee is tinkering with an already accepted plan to return to neighborhood schools. But it is wrestling with such issues as whether assigning several low-income housing areas to Hillsmere Elementary would overwhelm the already stretched resources of a school with low test scores. The committee will meet Thursday.

By school board policy, Parham must make redistricting recommendations Dec. 4. The board will vote in January on which proposals to take to public hearings in February or March, hearings that are expected to be contentious. The board's vote pTC to redraw school boundaries will come in April.

Pub Date: 11/11/96

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