Balto. Co. school boundary plan draws fire Fifth District parents angry

others pleased

March 26, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

A year ago, parents at Cedarmere Elementary School picketed the county office building and protested at school board meetings to get middle school boundaries changed. Now, those parents are pleased -- but they might soon be replaced by angry parents at Fifth District Elementary School.

This week's proposal to transfer almost 600 elementary and middle school students to different schools over the next two years is stirring strong and mixed reactions in communities across Baltimore County.

The proposed boundary changes for eight schools -- presented to the school board Tuesday night in the system's first widespread redistricting in several years -- face a series of public meetings and hearings before the board votes in June.

But the possible changes are generating the emotional responses typically associated with redistricting -- particularly when the changes may divide communities or bring them back together.

For example, the plan calls for 218 Deer Park Middle School students who live in the Cedarmere and Timber Grove elementary districts to begin attending Franklin Middle in fall 1999. That would keep the students in Reisterstown for middle school and reverse a 1990 boundary change that had sent those students from Franklin to Deer Park.

"I feel like we've gotten over a big hurdle," said Lynne Braverman, who is the redistricting representative on Cedarmere's PTA executive board. "It's long overdue, but I'm going to be cautiously optimistic until the board actually takes its final vote."

Last year, Cedarmere parents -- still upset by the decade-old change -- spoke out regularly at school board meetings and marched in front of the county office building to lobby for their children to return to Franklin.

"The community was split," said Caron Glassman, Cedarmere's PTA president. "Parents have been happy with Deer Park -- and I'm sure some children will stay at Deer Park to stay in the magnet program -- but it's been very hard for the students to be sent away from the community middle school. That transition from elementary to middle school is such a fragile age."

But in northern Baltimore County, families at Fifth District Elementary School are gearing up to fight a proposal to shift 59 students to Sparks Elementary School when its new building opens this fall.

"Our community is very upset," said Jane Buchanan, president of Fifth District's PTA. "A lot of people have been living in this area for generations, and they want to stay at the school."

The redistricting plan for Sparks -- which is in Cockeysville Middle School while a replacement is built for its burned building -- also calls for Jacksonville Elementary School students who live in the Loveton Farms development to go to Sparks.

The Loveton Farms students had been attending Sparks before the fire. Parents praised Jacksonville, but are eager to return to Sparks to reduce their children's commute to school.

"They're riding a bus for as much as 30 minutes each way," said Somal Patel, who has a son in the second grade. "Now they'll be five minutes from school, which would be great."

Sparks PTA President Kathy McAllister said the proposed changes seem acceptable -- but she would prefer that the redistricting occur in 1999, not next fall.

"The school isn't scheduled to open until mid- to late October," McAllister said. "If the students are redistricted for this fall, they would either have to go to Cockeysville for two months, where we don't have any extra space, or they would have to be pulled from their current schools part of the way into the year. It makes more sense to wait until 1999."

On the west side of the county, parents are looking forward to efforts to spread students more evenly among crowded schools. The proposal calls for about 200 middle school students at Southwest Academy -- projected to be 301 students over capacity in the fall -- to be transferred to Woodlawn and Old Court middle schools.

"It's just really cramped at the school," said Cyndi Bellman, PTA president at Southwest Academy. "We need to look at just about anything to free up space."

But parents throughout the west and northwest areas of the county say that the redistricting changes are only short-term solutions -- and that new schools will need to be built.

The shift of students from Deer Park Middle to Franklin Middle will come in 1999 with the opening of Franklin's 400-seat addition. A 200-seat addition is scheduled to be completed at Deer Park in 2000.

"It will alleviate some overcrowding for a while, but soon we're going to be right back up there," said Paul Samuels, Deer Park's PTA president. "What they need to do is build another school."

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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