Parents protest plan for schools

Redistricting idea strikes some as being unnecessary burden

Officials promise to listen

February 10, 2000|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

From the hundreds of residents who packed a redistricting forum last night, this much was clear: Carroll County families are not about to let the school system relocate more than 4,000 students until their voices are heard.

Similar sentiments were expressed earlier yesterday at the monthly school board meeting, where residents pleaded with officials to slow the approval process for a proposed redistricting plan that is slated to be passed next month.

"Why do the county's problems have to fall on the shoulders of its children?" asked Ashley L. Conran, an eighth-grader at New Windsor Middle School who has been redistricted twice. "Please do not redistrict us again."

A committee of parents and school officials last month released a proposal that would transfer 956 elementary school students, 1,184 middle schoolers and 2,216 high schoolers to different schools.

Students would begin to move this fall, and the plan would be phased in over three years.

The action is needed, say school officials, to prepare for the opening of three schools: Shiloh Middle in Hampstead this fall, Century High in South Carroll next year and a second high school in Westminster in 2002.

The plan, if implemented, would be the most extensive redistricting in recent memory in the county. While maps with the plan's redrawn school boundary lines have been in the hands of many residents for weeks, the meetings yesterday offered the first opportunity for public comment.

One group of about 60 parents has met twice at the Winfield firehouse to mobilize.

Dozens of parents spoke at the board meeting, even after board President C. Scott Stone suggested the more appropriate venue for comments on redistricting would be at the public forum last night at Westminster High School.

More than 400 residents packed Westminster High last night. Outside, cars were parked where no legitimate spaces were available.

Inside, parents scribbled notes, listened attentively as school officials laid out the proposal, and occasionally became impatient.

"That makes a lot of sense," one audience member blurted out sarcastically after one proposal appeared on the overhead projector.

The comment was greeted with applause.

Kathleen Sanner, Carroll's director of support services, opened the evening with a promise. "What you see before you are truly proposals," Sanner said. "Much of what we decide to do will rely on your public comments coming back to us."

School officials' presentations, which lasted more than a hour, were followed by a break and then public comment.

Another forum is scheduled at 7 tonight at Liberty High School.

A final version of the plan, with revisions based on public comment, will be presented to the school board Feb. 29.

The board is expected to vote on the issue March 27.

Angry cries were voice from everywhere yesterday.

Families from the Winfield area said it is unfair that their children have to be redistricted for the second time in three years.

Sykesville residents complained the western part of their town was being lopped off from the rest of the town, potentially sending pupils to Linton Springs Elementary School, rather than to Piney Ridge Elementary School.

"Our community is so tightly woven," said Cathy Rees, who brought 30 parents to her living room in Sykesville earlier in the week to ponder alternatives to present to school officials. "These are homes and people who have known each other."

Parents from South Carroll and from Winfield charged that the school system is shifting students to the Westminster area only to justify building schools, including a high school.

"I don't know why they're putting [the high school] up there if that's not where the problem is," said Susan Plunkett, one of the Winfield parents organizing that area's protest.

"What are they doing shifting people out of their communities just to fill their empty seats?" Plunkett said.

Some residents complained the redistricting effort was moving ahead too rapidly.

School officials stressed yesterday that information packets with maps outlining proposed boundary adjustments are available for parents to view in the libraries of every county school.

Members of the committee that drafted the proposal said parents have several weeks to offer input before the plan is passed to the school board, then another month to petition the board to make changes before a final vote.

That, however, seemed like little consolation yesterday.

C. Michael Wheeler, a parent representing the Hood Mill East community in South Carroll, said 35 families want their children to remain in Sykesville-area schools rather than be moved to Mount Airy schools.

In a petition, residents argued that their children are used to playing sports, taking dance lessons and going to the doctor, dentist, church and grocery store in Sykesville.

"Many of the people in the area had to ask how to get to Mount Airy," Wheeler told the board.

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