Open-enrollment moratorium extended by school board

Exceptions include shifts for safety and discipline

Howard County

February 11, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Following a staff recommendation, the Howard County Board of Education voted yesterday to extend a moratorium on open enrollment in its public schools.

Amid criticism that the practice was elitist and benefited only certain school communities, the board had placed a freeze on the option since 2000. But there are a few exceptions, including assigning students to schools out of their districts for safety and disciplinary reasons.

Under a minor change approved by the board yesterday, parents who apply for a child's transfer to an area where a home is being built or purchased may be asked to pay tuition or return the child to the former district if the purchase is not settled within 60 days.

During the redistricting process for the opening of Marriotts Ridge High School, the board decided against countywide open enrollment despite concerns that the school would open with too few students.

About 570 freshmen and sophomores will attend Marriotts Ridge in Marriottsville when the school opens in late August.

But the school board adopted a few open-enrollment exceptions to the redistricting plan for Marriotts Ridge that would allow students to stay at their current schools in the fall.

They include:

Allowing about 29 current freshmen at River Hill High School, who attended four different schools in four consecutive years, including Folly Quarter Middle School, to stay put.

Allowing about five families in the Worthington community in Ellicott City with rising sophomores to stay at Centennial High instead of moving to Mount Hebron High. They could remain if their siblings were split between two high schools during the last redistricting in 2002 and if another set of siblings would be split again in the fall. That exception would require a family to have at least three siblings close in age.

Allowing nine rising sophomores, also in the Worthington community, to stay at Centennial High if they had an older sibling who also was a sophomore redistricted in 2002.

Transportation for the students affected would be provided only for 2005-2006 and the next school year.

In other business, the school board learned yesterday that the countywide student enrollment for the 2004-2005 year was over-projected by 232, resulting in an error rate of 0.5 percent.

The projection for kindergarten pupils represented 58 percent of the overall error rate in enrollment, said David C. Drown, coordinator of geographical information systems.

Historically, the error rate for projecting kindergarten pupils is higher because they are new to the school system, Drown said. School system demographers plan to adjust the projection model for determining kindergarten enrollment, he said.

The school board also voted to support two proposals submitted by members of the Howard County legislative delegation.

One would allow the school board to negotiate with various unions a service fee that would be charged to nonmember employees for union services.

Another would allow the board to investigate problems or disputes involving staff members who report directly to the superintendent.

The legislation, proposed by Del. Warren E. Miller, a Republican, is a response to last year's grade-changing controversy involving two top staff members under former school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke. The former superintendent hired an outside investigator.

Board members Patricia S. Gordon and Mary Kay Sigaty voted against supporting the bill.

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