Seven Oaks parents object to plan to ease crowding at Odenton Elementary

Redistricting will hinder pupils' transition, they say

January 31, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Some parents in the West County community of Seven Oaks are gearing up to make a case against a redistricting proposal that would send their children to Meade Heights Elementary School in an effort to ease crowding at their home school, Odenton Elementary.

They maintain that Anne Arundel school officials have not considered alternatives to Superintendent Carol S. Parham's recommended boundary adjustments, which remove Seven Oaks children from their neighborhood schools for elementary and middle school years but return them for high school.

"Any friends these kids make in elementary and middle school they will then lose" when they go to high school, said Seven Oaks parent Michelle Simon. "I think that is wrong.

"Making the transition to high school is tough enough for kids," she said. "They're struggling with independence, and they need their support groups."

Parents say the redistricting plan, adopted by the school board this month and set to begin in August, has made them determined to push harder for construction of Seven Oaks Elementary. In the school system's 10-year facilities master plan, the project is slated to receive planning and design money in 2006.

"No matter where we go, we're going to overcrowd the school," Simon said. "The [Seven Oaks Elementary] school needs to be moved up in the budget, especially when you look at the projected population growth in West County."

Seven Oaks parents plan to voice their concerns about the new school at public hearings Wednesday and Feb. 9 on Parham's proposed budget for next year.

Separate briefings and public hearings on the redistricting recommendations will be scheduled later next month.

"There are those of us who are holding out hope that if we go to these hearings with factual information, maybe we can make a difference," said Lynn Miller, an Odenton Elementary parent.

The redistricting proposal calls for 275 pupils who live west of the MARC train tracks and attend Odenton Elementary -- mainly the Seven Oaks community -- to go to Meade Heights Elementary. The reassigned pupils would then go to MacArthur Middle School and Arundel High School.

The plan also recommends that pupils for Piney Orchard Elementary School, which will open in August, come from the Piney Orchard development, the Woodwardville community and two nearby mobile home parks.

The new boundaries would bring enrollment at Odenton Elementary, currently 734 pupils, to 459. The additional pupils would put Meade Heights' enrollment at 584, 25 over capacity.

"It's moving our kids from one overcrowded school into another," Miller said.

According to the school system's adjusted enrollment figures, Odenton Elementary will be slightly under capacity in 2004, while Meade Heights will be over capacity by 75 pupils.

But without the boundary realignments, the superintendent and school system staff determined that crowding at Odenton would become more severe. In four years, Odenton would have more than 300 extra pupils. Meade Heights would be underenrolled by 235.

As it is, Odenton Elementary is bursting at the seams. The 70-year-old school has six portable classrooms and one restroom trailer.

Among other inconveniences, Simon said, pupils have to make their lunch choices in the morning so cafeteria lines will move faster. "It's crazy," she said. "All the pizza people get in one line, meanwhile, all the [chicken] nugget people are sitting there drooling."

Seven Oaks parents say they're particularly upset that the proposed boundary adjustments shift their children from the Arundel High School feeder system to the Meade High School feeder system, then back to Arundel High for high school.

"A lot of people think that just because we're close to Fort Meade, we're part of that community," Miller said.

Miller and Simon say school officials have not considered alternatives to keep Seven Oaks children in the Arundel feeder system.

"There are enough seats for us to stay there," Miller said. "I have crunched every number there is to crunch."

She said that Piney Orchard will be "dramatically" under capacity when it opens -- with 272 empty seats -- and that space is available in the other Arundel feeder elementary schools.

A dispute surrounding Arundel and Meade feeder systems is nothing new. In 1998, the school board dropped its appeal in a 1995 suit brought by Seven Oaks parents contesting a redistricting plan that they saw as having racial overtones. It would have shifted their children from the majority-white Arundel High feeder system to the more heavily minority Meade High School system.

Miller said her primary concern is not demographics but moving pupils between feeder systems.

"It goes against the concept of community schools," she said.

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