Panel begins school district map changes

New boundaries to affect elementary, middle pupils

Recommendation expected in fall

Bellows Spring to open in '03, when moves are set

Howard County

July 12, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

A redrawing of boundary lines for 38 elementary schools and 18 middle schools likely to affect where thousands of Howard County pupils will go to school in the fall of 2003 has quietly begun.

The Howard County School Boundary Line Committee, which is expected to recommend district boundary changes to the school board in the fall, is hard at work slicing and dicing to determine how best to reapportion elementary pupils once Bellows Spring, a new elementary school, opens in Ellicott City in 2003.

Relatively little community interest has been shown in the process thus far - few residents have made it to the committee's Tuesday night meetings. But the task appears likely to become a contentious one, potentially rivaling last year's angry struggle over redistricting the county's high schools.

"It's all theoretical right now," said Ellen Giles, the committee's interim chairwoman, "But once the draft map hits the streets and people can actually see we're talking about real places, then everyone will want to get involved."

At the Howard County Board of Education meeting last evening, Giles said the committee should have a first-draft redistricting map ready by early next month, though the board will not get involved until October.

"We don't want to see it until it's really ready," said Jane Schuchardt, the board's chairwoman.

Yesterday, members of the board learned that the high school redistricting plan had withstood legal challenge by three area residents and was upheld by the Maryland State Board of Education in a unanimous decision.

During a series of public hearings last winter on the high school redistricting, hundreds of parents - some waving posters and brandishing districting maps of their own - had fiercely lobbied the board to make changes in preliminary plans.

The outcome left parents in some neighborhoods frustrated because their children will be diverted to schools they had not expected to attend. There also were complaints of elitism and racism in some communities.

The elementary school redistricting committee hopes to avoid similar conflicts as they redraw district lines to fill Bellows Spring. But the elementary shuffle will be more complicated than it sounds.

Taking children from one school leaves holes in others in a domino effect, and the board wants to make sure the schools are as evenly balanced as possible throughout the county, including enrollment numbers, travel time, socioeconomic standing and academic performance.

The timeline for completing the task is tight.

The committee will use the rest of this month to work out the elementary school details (it started last month) and come up with a draft map.

Members will tackle the 18 middle schools next month and discuss adjustments to both in late September. On Oct. 24, the committee will present its recommendations to the Board of Education, which will make its decisions in late November.

The Boundary Line Committee meets from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays in Room B-37 of the Applied Research Lab, 10920 Route 108, Ellicott City.

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