Dozens of Howard County parents loudly proclaimed last year they could do a better job of school redistricting than the group charged with the task.
But now that it is time to find about a dozen new members for this year's Boundary Line Advisory Committee, the critics are not volunteering to take part in the process. So far, just two new applicants have come forward to say they are willing to take on one of the most criticized chores in the county: determining whose children should go to which school.
"We can't find enough bodies to fill the seats," said David C. Drown, who supervises redistricting for the school system.
The county's constant growth and lack of available space makes redrawing school boundaries necessary. It is considered one of the most important and sensitive jobs in the school system - largely because of the personal and academic effects the moves have.
Last fall, the committee's 18 members spent months analyzing demographic and geographic data to establish new lines for neighborhood schools. They were often repaid in insults, tears and vitriol from some redistricted community members who believed the job the committee did was subpar.
The disappointed parents drew up alternate maps, lobbied board members repeatedly, attended public hearings carrying professionally printed shirts and signs and spent hours researching, organizing and detailing plans of attack.
But now that it is time to step up to the plate and take part in the process, the masses are missing.
Drown says there likely are two reasons for the lack of candidates: The redistricting that needs to be done is minimal, making the interest level low; and the work is known to be tough and "emotionally trying at times."
No new schools are opening in the 2004-2005 school year, which the committee is targeting, so few students will be affected - unlike during the last round, when more than 1,000 children were moved.
The group will look at boundary line changes mostly at the high school level, Drown said, perhaps putting extra students in Oakland Mills, which is expected to have an addition that will accommodate 300 students ready for use by August 2004.
Program capacity changes are to be considered, with all-day kindergarten starting in some schools in 2004-2005. The group might also discuss the ramifications of building larger elementary schools, which the school board decided to do this year.
"I think it always comes down to the personal," said Ellen Flynn Giles, who chaired last year's committee. "If your neighborhood is due to be impacted, it's much easier to give the time. It's harder to get people to commit to the overall picture."
But having public input is crucial, Giles added, particularly in a process that affects the community so deeply.
The committee will be made up of two representatives from each of six county planning regions, five returning at-large members from last year's committee and a student member. Drown will participate with the group, which will meet weekly from mid-June through early October.
"It's interesting and important work," said Drown, who has extended the deadline for joining the committee by one week, to May 23. "It's a unique opportunity to get into the decision-making process that affects many, many students here in Howard County."
Applicants should send a letter of interest to David C. Drown at 10910 Route 108, Ellicott City 21044, or by fax to 410-313-6683.