Parents debate school lines New elementary forces difficult redistricting decision

March 12, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The Howard County school board's decision on boundary lines for the new elementary school in Ellicott City didn't get any easier during a public hearing last night.

The more than two dozen parents who testified about boundaries for the new school split on two competing proposals. The two sides offered dueling sets of enrollment data and educational theories to support their positions.

The board also heard parents living in MacGill's Common oppose a proposal to redistrict their children to Oakland Mills Middle School. The parents said they preferred a plan to send their children to Hammond Middle School.

The redistricting proposals call for more than 1,400 county elementary and middle school students to change schools in the fall.

The boundary line changes are required largely to accommodate the opening of three schools in the fall -- Hollifield Station Elementary in Ellicott City, Fulton Elementary in Fulton and Murray Hill Middle in North Laurel.

The board adjusts boundary lines every year because of enrollment changes and new schools. The 39,000-student Howard system is expected to grow by more than 21 percent -- or about 8,200 students -- by 2002, according to school officials.

While two parents also testified about the need for portable classrooms at their neighborhood schools, the main debate during last night's hearing was over where to place the boundary line between Waverly Elementary School and the new Hollifield Station.

School officials' original recommendation was for Old Mill Road to be the dividing line, but their alternate proposal is to use McKenzie Road instead.

The debate between the two boundary proposals essentially is a choice between trying to equalize the enrollment in both elementaries by splitting a neighborhood, or leaving the enrollment unbalanced by using a middle school boundary line.

For parents of children remaining at Waverly, the prevailing sentiment is to use McKenzie Road as the boundary, setting both schools' enrollment at about 400 in the fall. Using Old Mill Road as the boundary would leave Waverly more than 200 students under capacity and put Hollifield Station over its 500-student capacity in its first year, they said.

"The St. John's Lane [Elementary School] students will go from one overcrowded school to another and the students and teachers at Waverly will be reduced by nearly 50 percent," said Angela Liuzzo, the parent of three Waverly children. "The Old Mill line will be drastic, unnecessary and a major disruption to the children remaining at Waverly."

Specifically, Waverly's small student population would cause students and teachers to "suffer from a loss of flexibility in services," said Sue Tompkins, who has two sons at Waverly. "There will be a loss of flexibility in grouping students for math and reading" and a "greater possibility of split grades."

The parents supporting McKenzie Road handed the board a 45-page booklet titled "The Optimal Learning Line -- The McKenzie Road Alternative." It includes enrollment data, cost figures and a sample of parents' testimony.

But parents living east of Old Mill Road said that using McKenzie Road as the dividing line would split their neighborhood. They also said Old Mill Road should be used because it is already the boundary for Patapsco Middle School.

McKenzie Road is "an artificial boundary line" that would "isolate one part of our community," said David Selawski, who said his position was supported by a petition of more than 400 families living in the area east of Old Mill Road.

For example, Lisa Angell and Jackie Lujan live on adjoining properties but Angell's children would go to Hollifield Station and Lujan's would stay at Waverly if McKenzie Road is the boundary. "McKenzie Road is not a dividing line. It is the heart of our neighborhood," Lujan said.

If McKenzie Road is used as the boundary, the handful of students who would attend Waverly and then go to Patapsco Middle -- while most of their elementary friends went to Mount View Middle -- would be "more likely to be lost in the shuffle of middle school," said parent Cindy Ardinger.

In the testimony on MacGill's Common, parents -- and even the chairman of the Kings Contrivance village board -- said that students living in that neighborhood should be transferred to a middle school that feeds into nearby Hammond High School, preferably Hammond Middle.

The MacGill's Common parents agreed that the students should be moved from Clarksville Middle -- a school that is overcrowded -- but said their neighborhood is too small to do much to boost the low enrollment at Oakland Mills Middle.

"Our neighborhood is not large enough to be a long-term solution to the underpopulation problem in Oakland Mills," said MacGill's Common resident Sheree Norton. "Join the children of MacGill's Common with [nearby] Dickinson to establish an intelligent feeder system" to Hammond High.

The board will hold a second work session Tuesday night and approve final boundaries for next fall on March 25.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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