Anticipating large turnouts at public hearings on high school redistricting, the Howard County Board of Education has decided to move two of the three hearings to locations that can hold more people.
The Dec. 13 and Dec. 17 hearings were previously scheduled to be held in the boardroom at the county's school board headquarters on Route 108 in Ellicott City.
But because the boardroom - where the five-member board meets biweekly - has a capacity of fewer than 200 and parking is scarce, board members decided to look for alternative sites.
The Dec. 13 hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Banneker Room at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. The Dec. 17 hearing will be held at 2 p.m. at Smith Theatre at Howard Community College in Columbia.
The changes are another of the board's efforts to include more community input as boundary lines are adjusted.
High school boundary lines will be changed to fill the county's 11th high school, Reservoir, which will open next fall. The boundary changes could move more than 3,000 students to a new or different school.
Hundreds of residents are expected to show up to express their opinions and hear the concerns of others.
Superintendent John R. O'Rourke first announced that he planned to limit the number of speakers at two of the three hearings - Dec. 13 and Jan. 15 - by picking five names at random for each hearing. Parents and others vehemently opposed the lottery, saying their right to be heard was being squelched.
O'Rourke and board members then added the Dec. 17 hearing and said that at that meeting they would accommodate any speakers who signed up.
In a meeting this month, board members decided to further increase community participation by forgoing the lottery system. Instead, they plan to allow seven people from each high school - for a total of 70 - to sign up to speak at each of the two original hearings.
A lottery will determine the order of the high schools. The board will draw school names and announce the order for the Dec. 13 hearing at a work session Dec. 6. Members will set the order for the Jan. 15 hearing at a work session Jan. 8.
At a school board meeting last week, Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt repeated that "everyone will be heard."
Speakers must sign up in advance for all hearings. Sign-up for the Dec. 13 and Dec. 17 hearings began at 8 a.m. yesterday. By early afternoon, officials said, about 45 people had called to sign up.
Sign-up for the Jan. 15 hearing will begin at 8 a.m. Jan. 3. To sign up, call 410-313-7197.
E-mail sign-up will not be permitted.