School board votes to go forward with plan for Ferndale

Early-childhood center with region drawing area would replace elementary

Hearing on proposal likely soon

3 requests for hearings on redistricting denied

January 09, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board voted yesterday to move forward with a proposal to create a regional "early childhood center" for 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds on the site of dilapidated Ferndale Elementary School, opening the issue to a public hearing in coming weeks.

The board declined requests for public hearing from three communities seeking to redistrict their children to other schools. Board member Paul Rudolph introduced motions on behalf of two of the groups, but they failed because of a lack of support from the board.

A briefing to explain the Ferndale proposal is expected to be held this month, followed by a public hearing next month, officials said.

In November, Superintendent Eric J. Smith recommended converting the 77-year-old school, which has been troubled for years by structural problems, into a prekindergarten and kindergarten center for 160 children who would have gone to Ferndale Elementary and two nearby schools. The change would require closing Ferndale and redistricting pupils to George Cromwell Elementary, actions that require board approval.

Smith has said Ferndale's conversion would help satisfy the need for more classroom space created by the state's requirement for full-day instruction for all kindergarteners by 2007. If the Ferndale plan is approved - the board has until April 30 to decide - the superintendent said he will consider bringing the concept of regional centers to other parts of the county.

Residents of Ferndale, a working-class community that abuts Baltimore-Washington International Airport, had appealed to Smith and the school board not to close their neighborhood school. But many have warmed to the idea of the regional early-childhood education center.

Rudolph said he was disappointed that none of his fellow board members supported his motions to bring two redistricting requests to a public hearing.

One was on behalf of the Shipley's Retreat community, which wants 18 pupils redistricted from Glen Burnie Park Elementary to Shipley's Choice Elementary. Children from Glen Burnie Park eventually feed into Old Mill High School, while Shipley's Choice pupils are bound for Severna Park High.

Parents from the Shipley's Retreat neighborhood have lobbied the school board for three years on the matter, saying their children have lengthy bus commutes to Glen Burnie Park, about five miles away. The distance to Shipley's Choice is about a mile.

"The fact that they kind of killed the motion before the [public hearing] process was very discouraging," said resident Ben Demonte.

Rudolph also made a motion on behalf of a community near Annapolis, which in the late 1990s was granted redistricting for its middle and high school students to the South River High School feeder system.

Residents from the area, which includes Gingerville, Wilelinor and Poplar Point, asked the board to allow their elementary school-age children to join the South River feeder system. The pupils had not been included in the previous redistricting because there was not enough room at Edgewater Elementary at the time.

The third request was made by residents of the Willow Run neighborhood whose children attend Freetown Elementary, a feeder for Glen Burnie High School. They asked to be redistricted to Solley Elementary, which sends pupils to Northeast High.

Rudolph said after the meeting that he was disappointed with his colleagues' lack of support of his two requests, but understood their reasons.

Several board members told him they wanted to give Smith, who has been on the job for half a year, a chance to become more familiar with the county before asking him for recommendations about these communities, Rudolph said.

Board Vice President Carlesa Finney said the school system is facing many changes, such as full-day kindergarten, that are likely to affect enrollment levels. "I don't think we should do anything to move students right now in Eric's first year as superintendent," she said.

Smith said he considered the Shipley's Retreat request but felt that the time was not right.

"I'd hate to move kids now and have to go back and move them again later," he said.

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