School lines process studied

Panel offers board suggestions to ease redistricting process

`This was good'

February 06, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County's 28- member Boundary Lines Advisory Committee - the group that led the recent grueling process of reshaping the county's high school districts - has some suggestions for the Board of Education about how the job could be done better in the future.

Among the ideas:

Future committees should be smaller, possibly no more than 12-15 people.

The relationship between the school board and the committee should be clarified and documented.

Committee members should not be called "representatives."

School board members should be more involved earlier in the redistricting process.

More diversity on the committee should be encouraged.

Committee members should get more accurate demographic data sooner.

And David C. Drown, the coordinator of geographic systems, needs more help.

Boundary lines committee members drafted a memo to school board members last week, detailing areas of possible improvement.

At a meeting Monday at Burleigh Manor Middle School, the board and the committee discussed the proposals.

Some of the proposals were tossed out, or debated even among the members. But school board members said they left the meeting feeling good about the things they'd learned.

"This was good," board chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt said as she wrapped up the meeting. "So we can correct and change and make better the process, so that future groups will have a better process to go by."

The meeting was timely, since board members hope to convene a new advisory committee by the end of next month to start work on the next round of redistricting.

The board is planning to redistrict elementary and middle schools next year - about 45 more schools than this year's effort.

"We thought this was bad," Schuchardt said, rolling her eyes.

One of the major concerns was the selection of future committee members.

This time, members were selected by principals - two from each high school.

Some members suggested that the school board or an outside party, should do the picking to ensure more diversity.

"Look around," said Joan Lancos, one of two members from Atholton High School. "We really did not have true representation of Howard County. We didn't have any Asians; the only black we had on the committee was Natalie Woodson from the NAACP."

Others suggested the advisory committee should be continuing and less ad hoc, providing stability and continuity of experience.

"If you always have one-third of your committee that understands this stuff, I think you'll have a much better outcome," said Mary Catherine Cochran, one of two members from Centennial High School.

The committee should have been given a mission and standard operating procedures, some members said. And, members said, they didn't feel advisory enough, especially when some community groups' proposals garnered more discussion than their own suggestions.

"You would have been better served if we would have given you a charge," Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said. "But nobody knew what that should be."

Board Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French said she would have preferred to have been briefed by Drown periodically about what changes to boundary lines were being considered - a major shift from past redistrictings when board members heard nothing about proposals until they were presented at a formal meeting. Advisory committee members agreed they'd like school board members to be involved earlier.

Committee members said that while those serving should be knowledgeable about their own neighborhoods, their jobs would be easier if they weren't called "representatives," giving people in their communities the impression that committee members were bound to fight for every idea their neighbors brought forth.

"I think that word has got to be eliminated from the discussion and it has to be eliminated from our thoughts when this group is reconstituted," said Mary Kay Sigaty, committee co-chairwoman. "Because it is just so essential for the committee to be removed from individual schools."

Members discussed ways to encourage more trust from parents and community members, so next year's process won't be so contentious.

Jerry Bialecki, committee co-chairman, said, "To me, trust is believing the data, believing the numbers. We owe our kids to get these numbers right."

O'Rourke agreed that the system had to do a better job giving out more accurate data, after continuously praising the group for doing a "remarkable job" with a project of "unprecedented scope."

However, when Schuchardt asked the committee how many would be willing to serve on the next committee, seven raised their hands.

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