Redistricting 4,356 students recommended

2 public hearings on proposal are set for next month

`Well-thought-out plan'

January 25, 2000|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Unleashing a familiar beast, Carroll school officials unveiled last night a sweeping redistricting proposal that would shift 4,000 students from all grade levels.

Carroll educators are acting in anticipation of opening three schools: Shiloh Middle in Hampstead in fall, Century High in South Carroll next year and a second high school in Westminster in 2002.

Redistricting is an incendiary issue, especially in suburban counties, where growth has forced a boom in school construction and officials have repeatedly redrawn boundaries.

The plan presented to the school board last night would transfer 4,356 students -- 956 elementary, 1,184 middle school and 2,216 high school students. About 27,000 students attend Carroll public schools.

All grade levels would be affected by the plan. Elementary school attendance boundaries would be revised, elementary schools would feed to different middle schools, and middle schools would send children to different high schools.

Generally, the plan calls for a gradual nudge northward -- moving population from quickly developing South Carroll to the Westminster area -- but few areas of the county would be unaffected. According to county officials, the plan would mark Carroll's most extensive redistricting in memory.

"We looked at this from every angle and what we bring before you this evening is a well-thought-out plan," said Cindy Parr, a Finksburg parent who chaired the committee that drafted the proposal. "We were fair. We put things aside. We chose what was best for the county as a whole and it is important for you all to know that."

Instead of moving students directly from crowded South Carroll to Westminster, the committee proposed a "domino" design. Some students would be shifted from one school to a less-crowded nearby school to the north. Then, students would be shifted from the second school to an adjacent school farther north.

For example, the plan calls for 17 pupils to move from Freedom Elementary in Eldersburg to Mechanicsville Elementary in Gamber. Eighty-four pupils who live in the north portion of Gamber would be moved north to Robert Moton Elementary in Westminster.

"We all tend to love the schools where we are, and that's a positive," said Susan W. Krebs, a school board member who served on the committee and is a Carroll parent. "But when we go to the next school, it's great, too. That's what I've found. Let's hope we go into this with a positive light."

While the proposal -- designed by a 24-member committee of parents and school officials during the past five months -- is out for public consumption, last night's meeting was intended to allow the school board to review it. Still, about two dozen residents filled most seats in the school system's boardroom, some examining maps and whispering to friends about who was or was not to be moved.

"Redistricting is often the most volatile and difficult decision any board of education has to make," said Eric Schwartz, deputy executive director for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. "This is a board of education telling every parent in the district where their children will go to public school. Often you have parents who have moved into an area because of the school. They have a vested interest."

The Carroll plan will be presented again at two hearings, Feb. 9 at Westminster High and Feb. 10 at Liberty High. At those events, officials said, parents will be able to obtain detailed packets of information.

The final version of the plan, including revisions based on public reaction, will be presented to the school board Feb. 29. The board is scheduled to vote March 27 whether to implement the plan, amend it or not redistrict at all.

"We've got good teachers across the board and I'm trying to have an open mind -- if this is good for the county, we need to swallow it. I hope I can maintain that attitude when I see the plan," said Jean Wasmer, president of the Carroll County Council of PTAs, in an interview before last night's meeting.

Areas of the county -- particularly the northwest -- are spared under the plan. None of the elementary schools or middle schools that feed into Francis Scott Key High is affected. In the Finksburg area, by comparison, all children who attend Sandymount Elementary would attend the new Shiloh Middle in Hampstead rather than West Middle in Westminster.

Committee members sought to retain boundaries important to communities, ensure that no child would move twice during the next three years and avoid moving tiny groups of students.

Officials said children close enough to a school to walk safely would not be moved.

"Everybody wants to know what area will be hit first," Wasmer said. "I was at a basketball game, and there was all this speculation about what's gonna happen here, what's gonna happen there? I said, `Go to the meetings.' "

Moving students

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