Residents get final shot at redistricting

About 100 use maps, presentations, posters for school appeals

New plans introduced

Work session set for Thursday

lines to be OK'd Jan. 24

January 16, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

At the last public hearing on plans to move thousands of Howard County students to new high schools this fall, parents eager to sway the school board resorted to new strategies and came up with fresh ideas for how to make the shuffle.

With posters, group presentations and colorful maps, about 100 speakers at Howard High School signed up to take advantage of their final shot last night to convince the five-member Board of Education of the merits of moving certain students to certain schools and keeping others where they are.

Some speakers suggested that the board wait to redistrict portions of the county until further studies are completed. Others recommended turning Wilde Lake High School into a magnet school for fine arts, freeing up much-needed seats at other high schools. Some suggested further examination of community-based plans that have been called "less-than-viable" by the district's director of geographic systems, David C. Drown.

Some even presented the board with entirely new countywide plans.

Members of the Wilde Lake community presented the school board with the Wilde Lake Alternate Red Plan, a modification of the superintendent's proposal. In the Wilde Lake plan, the community of Hawthorn is not moved from Wilde Lake to Atholton High School, nor is the Gaither Farm community relocated. Instead, several students slated for River Hill and the new Reservoir High School would go to Atholton.

"We do not see any valid rationale for moving Hawthorn from Wilde Lake to Atholton," said Doug Ousborne, who lives in the Columbia neighborhood. "Please do not upset the delicate balance that has changed Wilde Lake into a success story."

Seven Ellicott City youths presented a striking visual to the board and Superintendent John R. O'Rourke - a grinning line of T-shirted, sneakered neighbors from Gaither Farm and Gaither Hunt who are being recommended under one proposal for redistricting from River Hill High School to Wilde Lake.

"Behind me stands the number of people who will be leaving River Hill and going to Wilde Lake," said freshman Shannon Lynes. "My brother Luke Lynes, Brandon McFarlane, Ben Hostettler, Brittany Wood, Tony Coffield and Niana Davis. You are not moving me with a large neighborhood. You are moving me with these six people. Now I ask you, `How fair is that?' "

Clarksville's Anne Darr asked board members to reconsider all of the proposals, including the three suggested by the citizens-led Boundary Lines Advisory Committee (BLAC), the half dozen or so submitted by community groups or individuals and the superintendent's own recommended plan.

"Don't forget that the BLAC wasn't satisfied with any of the plans," she said. "Please revisit the community-based plans and redraw the boundaries"

Howard High School senior Nicolas Johnson suggested that the school board take a closer look at one of its redistricting goals - perfecting the feeder system from elementary to middle to high school.

"High school districting should be based on the location of the communities, not the middle school feeder system," she said. "Students should not ride a bus to a school while passing other schools that are closer in proximity."

Other speakers suggested that the board's goals were unclear, haphazard or, in some cases, a hindrance to an efficient redistricting process.

Columbia's Andrea Beri said the district should search the country for models of redistricting that don't pit neighborhood against neighborhood and take "exorbitant" amounts of community input only to result in so much community dissatisfaction.

"I am thinking of a process where some community input is received but that the bulk of the work is done by the people paid to do the work," she said.

The board will hold a public work session on the topic Thursday, and will approve new boundary lines - based on the speakers' testimonies, staff recommendations and 10 months of work by the BLAC - on Jan. 24.

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