Plan to shift school lines draws crowd Many at hearing ask board to reconsider moving students

'Definite resentment'

Communities spar over plans for 2 new elementaries

March 11, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

More than 50 people testified at a Howard County school board hearing on redistricting last night, stating their cases for keeping their children from being transferred to other schools.

They urged the board to reconsider plans to redistrict students to Triadelphia Ridge Elementary in western county and Gorman Crossing Elementary in Savage, which are scheduled to open this fall.

The parents who attended the hearing at Department of Education headquarters also decried crowded classrooms.

Some parents supported plans that officials presented in late January to redistrict about 760 students.

Others put together presentations with overhead slides, graphs and charts.

"Try not to be emotional," Stephen C. Bounds, the board chairman, advised the standing-room-only crowd of about 200 before the hearing. "Please don't turn this into an issue of community against community. Please treat each other with respect."

To help relieve crowding, parents from Glenwood Middle and Pointers Run Elementary asked for more portable classrooms. For the same reason, parents from Laurel Woods Elementary asked to have their boundary lines redrawn.

"I come before you tonight as a parent from Laurel Woods Elementary to plead with you to redistrict our school," said Lisa Kawata. "Our children's safety and equitable educational opportunity are at stake."

At Clarksville Elementary, 70 students are scheduled for redistricting under school system recommendations. That would sharply cut enrollment in the under-enrolled school but would help fill Triadelphia Ridge.

"Clarksville Elementary is not crowded," said Ryan Pinkston, a fourth-grader at Clarksville who will be moved next year if the plans are approved. "It may be old, but it's perfect. Why fix something if it's not broken?"

Randay Wykoff, who has three sons at Lisbon Elementary, said redistricting there would increase the bus trip for his children from 40 minutes to nearly an hour.

"This is not a good use of these kids' time," he said.

Parents of some of the 140 students at Atholton Elementary, who would be transferred to Gorman Crossing, said their school has been redistricted three times in the past decade.

"Historically, our community has been continually redistricted," said Gina Williams, parent of an Atholton student. "The best option for all is to leave Atholton undisturbed."

Lisbon's response

Much of last night's testimony focused on a document given to school board members last week by parents at Lisbon Elementary in response to school system plans to shift boundary lines. The so-called Lisbon Plan would redistrict other neighboring schools but leave that school's boundaries intact next school year.

Although enrollment at Lisbon is not predicted to be over capacity until 2001, the school system plan calls for moving about 60 Lisbon students to neighboring Bushy Park, which is expected to send students to Triadelphia Ridge in the fall.

In response, Lisbon parents formed a redistricting committee, gathered about 450 petition signatures and drafted the detailed Lisbon Plan. The 13-page document calls for reducing the number of students who would move from Bushy Park, increasing the number from Clarksville and bringing Pointers Run into the mix in the fall.

"We believe our proposal will be an improvement over the current recommendations," Ann Demmick, chairwoman of the Lisbon redistricting committee, said at the hearing.

Some parents at Clarksville, Bushy Park and Pointers Run elementaries said the Lisbon plan would sacrifice their communities to preserve Lisbon's.

Before the hearing, Becky Yoshitani, a parent at Clarksville Elementary, said, "There's definite resentment about the fact that Lisbon has come up with this proposal without consulting people. They are not working as a community. They're playing with people's lives."

Bounds said the school board has not discussed the Lisbon proposal.

"We don't make any decisions until after we've heard from the public," he said, adding that he has received about two dozen phone calls from parents at various schools regarding redistricting.

Calling redistricting a "dynamic process," Bounds pointed out that the school system's recommendations include warnings that students in all communities should be prepared to move.

For some parents, another issue is that Bounds has a child who attends Lisbon.

Maria Gordon, a parent from Clarksville, said, "I am concerned about the NIMBY effect that the Lisbon community has reached which, Mr. Bounds, is in your back yard."

Questions about Bounds

Some have asked whether Bounds would disqualify himself from voting on the proposal because of a possible conflict of interest, but Bounds says that is unnecessary.

"If people think I've made a decision on this because I have a child at Lisbon, they're wrong," he said before the hearing. "I will approach this redistricting by looking at all of the data and deciding what I think is best for students in the region, just as I do in any other instance.

"Other board members have redistricted themselves before. That's what happens."

No plans are being made to redistrict students in Howard middle or high schools this year, but, as at several elementary schools, temporary classrooms are being installed at some schools to accommodate enrollment growth.

After a work session March 19, the school board will vote on the boundary-line changes March 26.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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