School plan reply given

O'Rourke defends his recommendation on redistricting

`I did consult with ... staff'

Says he compiled best of all the proposals made over months

January 10, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County Schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke yesterday defended the surprise redistricting proposal he released Tuesday as a well-thought-out compilation of the best ideas he's heard over the past two months.

O'Rourke surprised parents attending a school board meeting Tuesday night when he recommended that the Board of Education consider a new plan for redistricting high schools this fall that included several unanticipated modifications of an earlier proposal.

"I don't just go off to a mountaintop and come back with a plan of my own," O'Rourke said in an interview. "I did consult with my staff and also took into account everything I've heard."

Three proposals were submitted to the school board in November after months of deliberation by a committee of citizens. A fourth - the gray plan - was offered by members of the Fulton/Lime Kiln community, who live nearest to the new Reservoir High School, opening in the fall.

David C. Drown, the school system's coordinator of geographic systems, recommended the board consider the red plan as the best of those proposals.

After two public hearings where scores of Howard County residents expressed their concerns about each proposal, O'Rourke agreed with Drown - but added several of his own suggestions.

O'Rourke's plan, for example, leaves Oakland Mills untouched and moves a small group of students in Ellicott City's Gaither Farm from River Hill to Wilde Lake.

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 - would attend Centennial.

Also, surprisingly, O'Rourke suggested opening Reservoir with only freshmen and sophomores - a stark shift from the board's previous decision to fill the new school with three grade levels.

O'Rourke said his ideas for improving the red plan are not new. He got them from the Boundary Lines Advisory Committee and staff members such as Drown.

"Everything in this plan has been discussed by the BLAC," he said. "It may not have been accepted by them or they may have gone off in another direction, but it's all been discussed before."

O'Rourke said his proposal validates the hard work of the 28-member committee, which toiled for hours to create its three boundary-line plans for board members to consider.

"This is a real reinforcement of the process and all the work that the committee did," he said.

Ultimately, O'Rourke said it is his job - not a committee's and not Drown's - to come up with the best plan.

"That's my responsibility. I have to give the board my best judgment," O'Rourke said. "This is the one that appeared to be the best to me."

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