State lawmakers question bid to firm up school boundaries

February 13, 1997|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

State lawmakers grilled Baltimore County legislators and education leaders yesterday about a proposed statewide law targeting students who sneak across county borders into classrooms.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee wanted to know what the legislation would accomplish that current laws and policies don't already do.

They also pressed for hard evidence of the severity of the border-crossing problem, something school officials have trouble providing because they haven't kept countywide statistics.

Del. Carolyn J. B. Howard, a Prince George's County Democrat, suggested that county officials examine the numbers by race. "This bill I've heard is perceived as an anti-African-American bill."

County school officials say the proposed law would help solve a growing problem that contributes to school crowding and drains resources.

They estimate that 2,000 students or more -- out of a 105,000 total -- could be illegitimately attending county schools; most are from the city.

Principals and residency specialists have said that between one-third and one-half of the 4,300 students claiming "multiple-family" living arrangements -- a family living with another family -- could be fraudulently enrolled.

At Pikesville and Woodlawn middle schools alone, 35 of 111 applications for multiple-family enrollments were rejected this year.

In a recent survey by a task force studying the issue, 110 of 160 principals reported concerns about nonresident students.

"There is a tremendous budgetary and resource issue here as well as a human issue," board member Sanford Teplitzky told the committee, noting that some schools report having as many as 50 to 100 nonresident students when they are already crowded.

The proposed law, sponsored by members of the county delegation, would require students to attend school where they live with a parent or guardian, except in special cases determined by the superintendent.

In practice, this would codify what is already generally interpreted by school districts as state law and school system policy, but is not clearly spelled out in one place, said Pat Roddy, a county lobbyist.

The confusion consumes principals' time and leads to inconsistent enforcement, proponents say.

An amendment proposed by Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, a Catonsville Democrat, would impose back tuition on those caught giving fraudulent addresses.

Many counties allow nonresident students to pay tuition to attend their schools if they have room. Baltimore County does not.

Representatives of the state Department of Education support the bill, with amendments protecting special education students and those placed in foster care or group homes. The new law would not affect homeless children, who are allowed by federal law to attend whatever school is in their "best interest," said JoAnne Carter, an assistant state superintendent.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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