Schools panel recommends `red' plan

Boundary proposals for high schools going to the board

November 30, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

A citizens committee recommended last night that the Howard County Board of Education approve only one of three sets of high school boundary lines that the committee had prepared for the board to consider - the plan marked "red."

Although there are pros and cons with all three plans, committee members said, the red plan will best populate the county's newest high school, Reservoir.

High school boundary lines must be changed to fill Reservoir, which opens in Fulton next fall. The boundary changes could move more than 3,000 students across the county.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Friday's Howard County edition of The Sun incorrectly reported that a citizens committee recommended one specific plan for the Howard County Board of Education to consider for redistricting high schools next year. That recommendation, in fact, came from school district staff member David C. Drown, who is coordinator of geographic systems. The Boundary Lines Advisory Committee suggested three proposals for the board to consider, of which Drown picked the "red" plan to recommend to the board for approval.
The Sun regrets the error.

"If you look at the three plans in the north and the northeast (parts of the county), they're almost identical," said David C. Drown, the school district's coordinator of geographic systems. "So if you're going to be evaluating these plans, you need to look at how you populate Reservoir."

Each of the plans is reasonable and workable, Drown said. And "there's one plan that every community can hang their hat on."

The red plan in particular, Drown said, has a number of strengths. For example:

The plan sends the entire portion of the current Atholton High School district east of U.S. 29 to a closer school.

It creates contiguous districts for all schools

It increases the number of students going from Lime Kiln Middle School to Reservoir High. Those schools share a campus with Fulton Elementary, creating a smooth feeder system in that area.

The feeder school system was a major concern for the advisory committee, said co-chair Mary Kay Sigaty.

"It was top on the list. It's an issue that continues to be discussed," she said.

Drown and the Boundary Lines Advisory Committee (BLAC) said the other two plans - "orange" and "black" -should be considered as alternates.

Using committee suggestions and guidelines over the past eight months, Drown drafted the plans. Each of the committee's meetings were open to the public, and parents had been commenting on incomplete drafts and ideas since the committee first began.

The red plan does have weaknesses, as well, Drown said.

As in all the plans, it removes a large portion of Atholton High School's student body and leaves Mount Hebron, Long Reach and River Hill high schools crowded.

That problem might be fixed when another redistricting is done to fill the county's proposed 12th high school in 2005, Drown said.

The red plan also splits River Hill village between two high schools. Currently, students in that neighborhood attend River Hill High.

Other issues that were considered in the formulation of the plans include the removal of the Technology Magnet program from Long Reach and River Hill high schools, and the movement of rising juniors in all of the plans, Sigaty said.

School board members had previously decided to open Reservoir with three classes - freshmen, sophomores and juniors."[That] really became an extremely difficult issue for us to get around," Sigaty said.

Last night, the committee suggested that the board open Reservoir with just two grades, allowing juniors to stay at their current schools.

Drown and committee members also suggested the board consider new options for the technology magnet program, which sends about 400 out-of-district students each to River Hill and Long Reach - the two most crowded high schools.

Board members will have two public work sessions next week to consider the proposals, but didn't wait to express some concerns.

Some members wanted to see more data regarding the movement of juniors. Others wanted to see more numbers, in general, showing how many students in each grade would be moved to and from every school.

Sandra H. French, the board vice chairwoman, said it worried her that none of the plans seemed to relieve the crowding in the northeast.

"That's what I originally thought would be occurring, and I guess I'm surprised that Long Reach is staying as overcrowded as it is," she said.

Sigaty responded: "Mrs. French, that was the best we could do."

The board will approve new high school boundary lines for next fall Jan. 24.

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