Board OKs plan to fill its newest school

Veterans Elementary redistricting blueprint draws Watson's dissent

November 26, 2006|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

It was only fitting that Courtney Watson's last meeting as a Board of Education member would include redistricting. And, as usual, she made her presence felt.

Watson was the only member to vote against each motion that will move pupils to Veterans Elementary School in Ellicott City, which is scheduled to open in August.

Watson, who with board member Mary Kay Sigaty will be sworn in Dec. 4 to serve on the Howard County Council, said there were not enough alternatives to the plan, which was approved by the board.

"I just didn't feel that enough effort had been placed on moving the neighborhoods closest into the school," Watson said after the vote last week.

Under the approved plan, 105 pupils from Northfield, 453 from St. John's Lane and 193 from Worthington will go to the new elementary school, which is near Montgomery Road and Long Gate Parkway.

Another 35 pupils from St. John's Lane will go to Centennial Lane, and Hollifield Station and Waverly elementaries will send 153 and 147 pupils, respectively, to fill the space at St. John's Lane.

In its only other redistricting decision, the board voted unanimously to move 118 middle school pupils from Elkridge Landing to Mayfield Woods.

Watson said that the moves to fill Veterans Elementary will not allow the children from the Wheatfield neighborhood to attend the new school. It was residents of Wheatfield that supported the system's decision to build the school near where they live.

"[The approved plan] will definitely work. The question is, is this the best plan that we can push forward," Watson said after the vote. "I felt a real sense of responsibility for the people of Wheatfield."

Chairman Joshua Kaufman, who also was participating in his last school board meeting, sympathized with residents of the Wheatfield neighborhood.

"They were very supportive of us," said Kaufman, who did not win one of five board seats in the general election. "But the bottom line is [that] we put the school in to relieve crowding in the north."

Bob Mead of Wheatfield could not believe the board's decision.

"Are you serious?" he asked. "Most of the parents want their kids to go to the new school instead of driving them all over the county. It just makes sense."

Diane Mikulis, the vice chairman who will return to the board along with Patricia Gordon when the panel expands to seven members next month, said she was comfortable with the plan.

"This is the best of the worst," Mikulis said. "I think that this is what we need to do."

Watson, who served four years on the board, added that ultimately the children will be fine.

"The children -- once they are in the school -- have a great experience," Watson said, referring to a contentious redistricting process two years ago at Marriotts Ridge High School. "We were fought tooth and nail by some of the parents in Marriotts Ridge. Now I cannot find a parent who is not happy with their child going to that school. It is a painful process, but not a terminal one."

Despite her vote against the redistricting plan, Watson said the process has greatly improved since she joined the board.

"We now have a very structured process that includes a feasibility study and long-range planning," said Watson, who was drawn to the board after being frustrated by overcrowded schools. "Our projection model is much improved. The accuracy has been increasing each year."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

REDISTRICTING OUTLOOK

Although the school system does not plan to build a school before 2013, when a middle school is tentatively scheduled to open, that does not mean that parents have seen the end of redistricting.

The system has several projects that might require minor shifts in coming years, said spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

"There are other things that could trigger the need for redistricting in certain regions," said Caplan, referring to a project at Bushy Park Elementary, where a replacement school is being built. "We're not anticipating [redistricting] for next year."

[JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS]

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