Board hopefuls discuss schools

Candidates share their views on redistricting

Primary is Tuesday

March 05, 2000|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

At a time when the fair distribution of school resources, staffing and technology is a major topic of debate in Howard County, the perennial questions of where children go to school -- and how they are redistricted -- have become campaign issues.

As Howard County voters prepare to choose Tuesday from a pool of 17 school board candidates campaigning for two open seats, The Sun asked for candidates' opinions on redistricting.

The four candidates with the most votes will advance to the general election in November -- but residents can vote for only two candidates.

One candidate, Cheri J. Herschman, has dropped out of the race, although her name remains on the ballot.

Do you support the way the school district currently redistricts students? If not, how would you change it?

Glenn Amato: No. But due to the lack of a strong adequate-facilities law, it makes redistricting a very hard thing to do. We would have to work very closely with the County Council to make long-range plans. If we know that a development is planned that will impact a school, then, if need be, we let that school be under capacity for a couple of years. We divert incoming ninth graders to other schools so that they can stay at one high school, thus reducing the number of redistricting. This can be done with all grades.

Marcelino Bedolla: I am not convinced that there is any policy in place that provides guidelines for redistricting. I strongly believe in the concept of neighborhood schools. Any policy on redistricting must take this concept into consideration. I would seek community input on any policy that the board might adopt. In addition, I would strive to work jointly with the County Council to avoid the need for redistricting.

Stephen C. Bounds: In addition to the strategies currently in place, I am recommending a Citizen Redistricting Committee which would operate on a parallel track with the staff-run process. The Citizen's Committee would review the same data, solicit public input and make its own recommendations to the Board of Education. The Board would then have its own public process to determine what elements of the staff and citizen plans should be implemented. I believe that such a process will help to increase public acceptance and improve perception regarding a very emotional issue.

Virginia Charles: No. First, I would like to see all of the current "islands" which are bussed past neighborhood schools removed. Second, I would like to see academic achievement be the primary factor involved in redistricting an area. Finally, I would like to see more of a feeder system in place. If that proves unfeasible, middle schools should have a more equal distribution of students coming from different schools and going to different schools. In 2002, a new high school will come on line, and the Board of Education should probably look at redistricting ALL schools at that time. However, there is nothing that the Board of Education does that causes so many hard feelings and angry parents. Regardless of what is done, somebody is going to be unhappy.

June D. Cofield: I do not support the islands or the piecemeal approach that is now used to redistrict our children and disrupt community life. Nor the lack of community involvement in being represented on a committee before the first proposal is presented to the Board of Education. I would look closely at policy #1675, "Boundary Line Adjustment Not Due To The Closing of A School," and determine if it is being used properly to address optimum capacity in our schools, is tied in with APFO, supports construction needs, and adequately meets the almost yearly redistricting that effects school climates.

Daniel M. Dotson: Instead of continuing to redistrict in a piecemeal fashion every couple of years, we have to step back and take a wider view of all schools in all the communities. There has to be a balance between the best use of the school system resources and the impact on students and families. A long-range plan and sensible districting should provide better ways of managing schools' capacity and predicting future enrollments. Our schools are the foundation of our communities and we cannot keep having communities ripped apart. If we can get it right once and for all, then ALL communities will become stronger.

Don Dunn: No. Gerrymandering is bad enough. Constantly gerrymandering is intolerable. The objective should be school stability. The present system is reactive, not preventive, having "temporary" trailers as classrooms in the same location for five to 10 years. We are no longer an agrarian county. We need adequate investment in technology and facilities based on the forecast of growth that we are all aware of. We need a paradigm shift.

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