Board to eye school lines

Committee presents redistricting plan tonight at meeting

Final vote on March 27

Many South Carroll pupils may be moved to Westminster sites

January 24, 2000|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

If anything has the potential to roil parents, it's changing the borders that determine which schools their children attend. It's called redistricting, and Carroll County parents are about to get quite a dose of it.

The process begins tonight when a committee of school officials and residents -- who have spent months drafting a redistricting proposal -- will present its recommendations to the school board. If implemented, the plan would mark one of the most extensive redistricting efforts in recent memory in the county and the state, said Kathleen Sanner, Carroll's director of school support services.

"We needed to look at all areas of the county," Sanner said. "I've done a lot of boundary changes. I've never done anything quite this complicated."

Redrawing the lines is needed, Carroll school officials say, to prepare for the opening of three new schools: Shiloh Middle in Hampstead this fall; Century High in South Carroll in 2001; and a second high school in Westminster in 2002.

If adopted by the school board after a period of public input, the plan would be phased in over three years -- beginning this fall -- and could affect a substantial portion of Carroll's 27,000 public school students.

School officials will release maps and precise figures on how many students would be moved at 7 p.m. today at the school system's central office on North Court Street. Although the meeting is open to the public, it is intended primarily for the school board to review the proposal, officials said.

The plan will be presented to the public at two hearings, on Feb. 9 at Westminster High and on Feb. 10 at Liberty High. The final version of the plan, including revisions based on public reaction, is scheduled to be presented to the school board on Feb. 29.

"This is just a suggestion," said Susan W. Krebs, who serves on both the school board and as an ex-officio member of the Long-Range Facilities Planning Committee, which drafted the proposal. "Obviously, we can't think of everything. We'll appreciate reasonable input. We look forward to input on this."

The committee was created by the school board in September, and charged with drafting a plan that would balance enrollments across the school system. According to members, their proposal generally shifts students from rapidly developing South Carroll to less-crowded schools in the Westminster area.

With the opening of Cranberry Station Elementary this year and the planned opening of Westminster's second high school, schools around that city would have had extra space without a shift, officials said.

Krebs said the opening of the two high schools required a major redistricting anyway, and the committee decided to use the opportunity to improve on elementary and middle school boundaries. In addition to balancing enrollments, the plan could help reduce class sizes, she said.

Committee members say their plan would improve past efforts by establishing a system by which all pupils in an elementary school would attend the same high school. That has not always been the case. For example, about 8 percent of Mechanicsville Elementary pupils attend Liberty High while the remainder attend Westminster High.

Middle schools presented more of a problem. In some cases, under the proposal, pupils from some elementary schools would be dispersed to different middle schools and reunited for high school.

Cindy Parr, a Finksburg parent who chaired the committee, said she has two children attending Sandymount Elementary who would go to Shiloh Middle instead of West Middle and then to Westminster High under the plan proposed.

"As a parent, I originally said no, I want my kids to stay in the Westminster community," Parr said. "I'm not totally thrilled by the idea, but after going through the process, I understand it."

The committee took pains to minimize shifting pupils, to avoid moving small pockets of pupils to a new school, and to keep small towns and established communities from being divided, members said. The group rejected an earlier idea that would have redrawn all lines by looking simply at the schools' locations, with no consideration for past lines or where communities exist.

"That proved to be extremely disruptive to a large number of students," said Sanner.

The committee used "the test of reasonableness," Sanner said.

Added Parr, "There were some areas that don't need to be tweaked, like the Francis Scott Key [High School] area. With the sparse population there, why tweak things for the sake of tweaking?"

The county has seen smaller redistricting efforts in the past two years -- mostly to prepare for the opening of Linton Springs Elementary in Eldersburg and Cranberry Station Elementary.

In 1998, two Union Bridge parents unsuccessfully appealed to the State Board of Education after their children were moved to New Windsor Middle from West Middle to relieve crowding.

It's going to be emotional," said Parr, referring to the forthcoming debate.

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