School redistricting plan reduced

Board pares number of children affected

March 28, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Responding to the pleas of parents and students, the Carroll County school board slashed last night entire sections of a proposed redistricting plan and voted to move 3,170 -- rather than 3,600 -- schoolchildren over the next three years.

About 180 people filed into Westminster High School's auditorium to make their final pitches for readjusting school boundary maps or scrapping the redistricting plan altogether.

For about 90 minutes, parents asked the five-member board to consider the needs of children rather than the maps and statistics that have been distributed at each public meeting. They complained that bus rides would lengthen as routes twisted through the county to accommodate the boundary changes. And they asked the board not to separate children from their neighbors.

"How dare you break up our community and have children living across the street from each other at different schools," said William E. Doherty, a Finksburg parent and past PTA president at Mechanicsville Elementary School. "How dare you bus our children 50 to 60 percent farther and past the elementary school they now attend."

John Endres, 10, tearfully asked the board to keep him and his friends together when they leave Spring Garden Elementary School in Hampstead for middle school next year.

"If you're going to tell us we're going to Shiloh [Middle School] in February, then you should tell us we're going to Shiloh in March," he said. "I know 25 kids at school, and they're going to Shiloh and I'm not, and I don't think that's fair."

Piece by piece, the board began eliminating parts of the plan recommended by the superintendent and a 24-member committee of parents and school officials. Parents cheered, hugged and wept as the board approved the amendments, which primarily affected elementary schools.

The plan approved last night calls for the shifting of 132 elementary pupils, 904 middle-schoolers and 2,135 high school students. It was the second time the board had reduced the number of students in the redistricting plan.

Acting in anticipation of opening three schools -- Shiloh Middle in Hampstead in the fall, Century High in South Carroll next year and a second high school in Westminster in 2002 -- Carroll educators unveiled a sweeping redistricting proposal in January that would have shifted about 4,300 of the system's 27,000 students.

Redistricting is an incendiary issue, especially in suburban counties, where growth has forced a boom in school construction and officials have repeatedly redrawn boundaries. Carroll's plan called for a gradual nudge northward -- moving students from quickly developing South Carroll to the Westminster area.

From the outset, committee members said they wanted to retain boundaries important to communities.

But from the perspective of the more than 2,000 parents who have attended public meetings on the subject, the redistricting committee had failed to meet its goals.

School board member Susan W. Krebs said she has received several hundred letters and e-mails from concerned parents.

"The overall feeling is that people want to stay in their communities and put extra seats in their communities rather than move their kids to empty seats elsewhere," she said before last night's meeting.

More than 1,000 people attended two public forums in February, and many of them asked officials to slow the process. South Carroll parents complained that plans to send their children to different schools were devised to justify building schools for the Westminster area.

In response, the redistricting committee this month scaled back its proposal, eliminating portions of the plan that rankled various communities. Ending concern that children would spend their last high school years in a new setting, the second draft recommended that 11th- and 12th-graders remain in their current high schools.

Still, the shifting boundaries angered parents from areas affected by the revisions.

Hundreds of Mechanicsville Elementary School parents protested moving 138 children to Robert Moton Elementary School. After an error was discovered in enrollment projections, 83 of those students were shifted back to Mechanicsville. Another 31 students slated to go to Moton were returned to Mechanicsville last night.

Parents said they had done everything they could think of to slow the redistricting process.

They have met with the county commissioners. They have written to the school board. Some asked the state's attorney's office to file an injunction against redistricting and building a second Westminster area high school. And two parents asked a state legislative committee to reduce the amount of money the county could raise through bond sales.

But not everyone went home happy. John Endres' dilemma was not among those corrected -- he won't be following his friends to middle school. The fifth-grader left the meeting in tears as his mother decried what she called the board's insensitivity.

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