School board revisits plan

Redistricting proposal backed by O'Rourke is focus of meeting

Vote set for tomorrow

January 23, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of Education came just about full circle in its thoughts on high school redistricting last night, going back to a detailed discussion of the "red" plan that was first recommended to it in November.

At its fifth and final work session, the board centered much of its thoughts on adjustments to the red plan proposed by Superintendent John R. O'Rourke.

No decisions were made at last night's work session, but the board is set to vote tomorrow on new boundary lines for high schools.

Members debated the merits of the gray and comprehensive plans - submitted for consideration by community groups and individuals - and found many community suggestions reasonable and logical.

But throughout the night, they seemed to be coming to the conclusion that ideas generated by O'Rourke, the citizens-led Boundary Lines Advisory Committee and the system's coordinator of geographic systems, David C. Drown, were more workable.

Board member Virginia Charles said parents from the River Hill community of Pointers Run had a "very cogent argument" for a delay in relocating their neighborhoods until further studies are completed.

And board Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French said she understood why parents from the Clarksville/Highland area wanted their children to stay at River Hill High School instead of going to the new Reservoir High, opening in the fall.

"It makes perfect sense to me," she said.

But in an effort to make their final decision easier, board members decided to focus on the red plan, created by BLAC and recommended by Drown.

Much of the board's discussion centered around trying to send more students from the Fulton/Lime Kiln communities to Reservoir next school year. The red plan has been criticized because it shuts out a large portion of those neighborhoods, though they are closest to the new school, in order for more students from North Laurel to attend.

`All or nothing'

Members tried using community suggestions that would take a portion of North Laurel to the new school and send the rest to Atholton or Hammond high schools, or that would splinter the Fulton/Lime Kiln area into small pockets of River Hill and Reservoir districts. All logical, board members said, but none satisfying.

"It is all or nothing, then," French said, with a sigh, after Drown electronically configured yet another recommendation on an overhead screen.

"This board has traditionally, in the past, listened to the parents and tried to find a compromise, but I understand the situation and I don't think there's a solution to it," said the board's newest member, James P. O'Donnell. "I don't think there's a viable solution."

Member Patricia S. Gordon said the board needed to keep in mind the many months of work the advisory committee put in to making proposals that are viable.

Too much tinkering, Gordon said, and "we're going to destroy the symmetry that they developed, and that is something we have to be very mindful of."

Board members seemed to be leaning toward the acceptance of some community ideas, however, including leaving the small Ellicott City neighborhood of Gaither Farm at River Hill until elementary and middle school feeder systems in that area are fixed over the next two years.

Parents have said there are too few students in that neighborhood to warrant moving them now.

`Important' activities

And some students from Mount Hebron High School - which will more than likely lose a good deal of its population to Centennial High under any plan next year - have complained that they'll miss out on certain activities, such as dance, if they're switched to Centennial.

"Some people may say, `Well, that's not academic,'" French said. "But it is a very important part of some students' career plans."

Board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt said school system administrators were looking at ways to provide a dance program at Centennial, anticipating the coming change.

"I think if the need is there, the program's going to be there," she said.

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