Study seen as tool in redrawing boundaries

Officials hope report, revised process will ease school redistricting anxieties

July 24, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Another round of redrawing school attendance areas has begun in Howard County under a revamped redistricting process that school officials hope will create more stability instead of the anxiety associated with this difficult task.

On hand for the first time this year is a feasibility study that outlines a plan for the opening of a new elementary school in Dayton next year and a proposal for setting boundary lines in 2007, when a second elementary school is to open in Ellicott City.

The study, which looks at future capital needs and redistricting over a 10-year period, was produced by the school system's Office of Geographical Information Systems. It was presented to the Board of Education last week.

"First of all, it's a learning process for everyone, including staff. The benefits are it does a great job of tying together redistricting and capital budgeting," said David Drown, the school system's coordinator of geographical information systems. "The two are very much related and intertwined, and this gives you a formal way to look at both components in one composite look.

"It improves our process because it gives more focus on long-term planning."

The more immediate goal for this year's redistricting is filling the new elementary school, off Ten Oaks Road in Dayton, when it opens in August of next year. The new school will relieve crowding at other western Howard elementary schools.

The plan calls for about 600 pupils from Clarksville and Triadelphia Ridge elementary schools to fill the new school. As a result, 431 pupils would move to other western Howard elementary schools.

Pupils from Manor Woods and West Friendship elementary schools would transfer to Triadelphia Ridge Elementary, and pupils from Fulton would move to Pointers Run Elementary. Pupils from Pointers Run would attend Clarksville Elementary.

Another focus of this year's redistricting is making adjustments at some middle schools, particularly crowded Patapsco Middle School.

During last year's process to fill Marriotts Ridge High School, which opens next month, the Board of Education decided against redrawing middle school boundaries. The board said it makes more sense to make changes at the middle school level when the school system works on redistricting for the Dayton elementary school.

School redistricting in Howard County is a way of life because of growth. By the time Marriotts Ridge opens, the school system will have built 25 schools since 1989.

Redistricting for high schools generally causes the most contention.

"High school is hardest without a doubt because of everything the kids are involved with," said Ellen Flynn Giles, a member of the newly renamed attendance area committee who has served on previous committees.

In the next two months, the 12-member citizens advisory committee - which formerly drew new attendance areas - will review the feasibility study and offer suggestions for improvements, part of the revised redistricting process.

Meeting since June, the committee also has made sure that the Dayton elementary school's redistricting plan is in line with stricter standards under the school system's revised redistricting policy.

That includes not moving pupils more than once every five years, having no school enrollment over 110 percent of building capacity, and avoiding having a school send less than 15 percent of its promoted students to a new middle or high school.

"Everyone is clear about what should be considered and what are factored in," Giles said. "So what comes to the [school] board meets their expectations and the public's expectations."

The committee also will evaluate the feasibility study's long-term proposals, including school construction plans as enrollment rises.

"I'm hoping what we get from this is more stability by looking out further," Giles said. "You're positioning yourself in a way that people have a better sense of what's going on, so it's not a surprise."

The committee's meetings - held every other Wednesday at the Applications and Research Laboratory - are open to the public. Minutes can be found at http://www.howard.k12.md.us/

The superintendent, who will use the committee's suggestions on the Dayton elementary school redistricting plan, will offer his proposal to the Board of Education in the fall.

Copies of feasibility studies can be obtained at the public information office, Board of Education building, 10910 Route 108 in Ellicott City.

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