Hopefuls examine shuffling of pupils

Board of Education candidates join redistricting debate

October 29, 2006|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

When it comes to the latest round of school redistricting, Howard County's current school board members make the final decision - but it will be up to those elected Nov. 7 to oversee the process of shifting more than 1,000 pupils among various elementary and middle schools next year.

Little wonder that the 10 candidates running for school board are following the process so closely, even though this year's school redistricting is limited to fewer than a dozen schools.

Almost every candidate attended a recent "attendance area adjustment" presentation to learn about the system's plan to shift elementary and middle school pupils in preparation for a new elementary school in Ellicott City, to open in August.

And some candidates have raised concerns.

"This process is not the best choice," said Roger Lerner, a business lawyer, business owner and adviser, who favors a permanent feeder system. "I want to avoid future interruptions."

Under the proposal, 105 pupils from Northfield, 453 from St. John's Lane and 193 from Worthington would go to the new elementary school.

Another 35 pupils from St. John's Lane would go to Centennial Lane, and 33 from Northfield would go to Thunder Hill. Hollifield Station would send 153 pupils to fill the space at St. John's Lane, and Waverly would send 147.

At the middle school level, 118 pupils would go from Elkridge Landing to Mayfield Woods, and 99 Glenwood pupils would go to Folly Quarter.

There are no high school adjustments proposed this year.

At Thursday's presentation, current board members raised many concerns about the proposals, which are due for a vote Nov. 21. A newly elected board will meet for the first time in December.

Chairman Joshua Kaufman said Joel A. Gallihue, the system's manager of school planning, should be prepared to further discuss alternative plans. He also wanted Gallihue to produce maps that would help board members visualize district boundaries.

Courtney Watson asked how redistricting would affect the number of portable classrooms in the system. She also wanted to know about future population changes at the middle and high school levels.

Mary Kay Sigaty wanted more detailed information that tracked the redistricting of pupils who receive free and reduced-price meals and who take the Maryland State Assessment Tests.

Board hopefuls, meanwhile, listened to the hourlong proposal with interest and talked about the issue afterward. Lerner called the feed from Northfield to Thunder Hill "unnecessary."

Di Zou, a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a graduate of Glenelg High School, said he favors a feeder school system. He also questioned aspects of the proposal, including the plan to move Glenwood students to Folly Quarter.

"I don't see the sense in that," Zou said as he pointed to the two schools on a map.

Larry Cohen, a retired school system employee, said he wants to make sure that children are not redistricted more than once.

"I want to do right by the kids," said Cohen, who explained that his older daughter was redistricted, which resulted in one daughter attending Atholton High School and the other attending Wilde Lake High School.

Sandra H. French, a retired educator, former chairman of the school board and now a substitute teacher in county secondary schools, said she opposes small feeds.

"To isolate those kids, I don't like it," French said. "I feel comfortable when you redistrict 100 students."

"Ellen Flynn Giles, a senior editor and analyst with Platts, a division of McGraw-Hill Co., has been a fixture in school PTAs and systemwide committees for 22 years. She said she was not surprised by the proposal.

"It's virtually identical to the feasibility study in September," Giles said. She added that she also opposed smaller feeds.

With no new schools scheduled to be built in the system until 2013, this likely will be the last redistricting of this scale for a while, said system spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

"There will be additions to some schools and renovations that would precipitate some redistricting," Caplan added.

After the board meeting, Giles said the issue of redistricting means a lot to potential board members, even though they will not vote on the system's proposal this year.

The board is scheduled to approve the plan Nov. 21; new board members take their seats in early December.

"I'd deal with the fallout," Giles said. "I'm worried about the impact."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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