Redistricting again

Howard County: Preparing parents, acknowledging concerns is vital on this contentious solution

February 03, 1999

EACH YEAR brings another redistricting plan for Howard County schools. Just as predictable are protests by parents who object to new boundary lines for school attendance areas.

Many people moved to a certain neighborhood so their children could attend its school. But Howard, and many fast-growing areas, offer no such guarantees.

The annual redrawing of district lines is driven by fiscal considerations. Howard is one of the hottest residential growth areas in Maryland. Over the next decade, it expects to add nearly 7,000 students; that influx is larger than one-third of the school systems in the state.

Despite objections, each year Howard school officials implement most of their redistricting plans -- in stark contrast to some other area counties. In Anne Arundel, for example, politicians proposed limits on development rather than confront parents on redistricting.

Redistricting may be more successful in Howard County because of the input of parents. Last December, they got their first look at the plan that the board is expected to vote on next month. Parents will be able to suggest changes in public hearings. Many will be disappointed with the final product, but they will have had an opportunity to help shape it.

The best way to make redistricting more palatable is to maintain schools of consistent quality. Parents complain most when they feel their children are being reassigned to an inferior school. School quality is no longer a matter of mere rumor. The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program quantifies in detail how one program performs against another.

Parents can help make a school better by working with its staff. But it is the system's responsibility to see that no child is shortchanged while improvements occur. Parents must be convinced that redistricting won't hurt the students involved.

Pub Date: 2/03/99

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