O'Rourke has own plan for redistricting

Schools chief offers a variation of the `red' option

Some parents angered

Significant changes proposed for Mount Hebron, Centennial

January 09, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke threw a fifth redistricting proposal into the pot for consideration last night, surprising and angering many parents who had spent weeks deliberating the pros and cons of the other four.

The proposal - an adaptation of the "red" plan - is the only one the five Board of Education members will be dissecting and perfecting over the next several weeks. Sandra H. French, vice chairwoman of the board, called the plan "superior" to all the others.

The board is scheduled to make a decision on new high school boundary lines Jan. 24.

The superintendent's proposal differs from the red plan in four key ways:

Oakland Mills High School is left as it is, instead of relocating Howard's Glenmont neighborhood and Hammond's Hopewell and Solar Walk neighborhoods.

The neighborhood of Gaither Farm is assigned to Wilde Lake High School, instead of River Hill.

The Key (Emerson) property is divided at the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 216, with eastern portions going to Hammond and western portions going to Atholton.

The most significant changes, however, would occur at Centennial and Mount Hebron high schools.

Under the superintendent's proposal, students in a large western portion of Mount Hebron's current district - as opposed to those in an eastern corner - will attend Centennial.

Those western Mount Hebron neighborhoods include those west of Bethany Lane, those with egress to Marriottsville Road and Route 99 from Henryton Road and Turf Valley and Pine Orchard.

Students in that area will have to be moved when the proposed 12th high school opens in 2005.

"It's something you hate to do to a community," said David C. Drown, the district's coordinator of geographic systems. "It's something we hoped we wouldn't have to do."

Parents from Mount Hebron left last night's meeting angry about the changes.

Under the red plan, the eastern corner of Mount Hebron's district was slated for Centennial, sending students from several apartment complexes and lower socioeconomic areas to the school.

But the superintendent's proposed plan, parents said, keeps those "more diverse" areas at Mount Hebron and siphons off the higher-income neighborhoods to Centennial.

"I'm not at all happy about it," said Laura Barnes, who has a senior and a freshman at Mount Hebron.

"The effect of this will be to create a kind of super-elite high school," she said.

"Centennial will draw from some of the most affluent parts of the county and [Mount] Hebron will become a different sort of school. It will create a much more needy population there," Barnes said.

Other parents - who heard about the new proposal yesterday, bombarded school board members with e-mail - accusing the board of last-minute dealing and underhanded attempts to keep their "prized" school pristine.

"This is just a part of the process," Drown said. "Things happen right up to the last hour."

Jane B. Schuchardt, the board chairwoman, told parents at the work session last night not to walk away thinking a decision had been made.

She assured parents that the superintendent's proposal was just a "direction" that board members were moving toward.

The audience burst into laughter.

"We still want to hear from you," Schuchardt said.

The superintendent's proposal has other new components, as well.

It allows juniors to stay at their home schools, opening the new Reservoir High School with only freshmen and sophomores in the fall.

The plan also delays any kind of relief for the county's crowded northeast high schools for at least a year and gives time for school system staff members to commission a study of magnet and academy programs.

At the work session, board members gave lengthy speeches about how difficult this redistricting process has been, how appreciative they have been for all the myriad input, and how wonderful all the schools and their staffs are.

"I have been trying to find compromises after listening to all of you," French said. "I'm sure other board members have as well. The superintendent has come up with a superior plan, I believe. We're just trying to do what's best for the county."

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