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County Council, Board of Education discuss redistricting, turf fields

By Sara Toth, stoth@tribune.com

2:52 PM EST, January 24, 2012

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Redistricting, turf fields and school safety were discussed Tuesday, Jan. 24 when the Howard County Board of Education met with the County Council.

The quarterly meeting came as the board is pursuing litigation against the owners of a 10.1-acre site on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge, slated to house a 600-seat elementary school in 2013. The suit was not discussed at the meeting, and board members declined to comment on the litigation.

However, the next round of elementary school redistricting was a topic of conversation — a shift that's scheduled to take place in the crowded northeast region in 2013 and one that includes the new elementary school, said Board Chairwoman Sandra French.

Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning, said redistricting in 2013 could impact as many as 1,613 elementary students.

"In order to move 600 students (into a new school), you probably have to move double that," Gallihue said.

The school system does not expect to redistrict middle or high school students next year.

The two elected bodies also discussed the recent decision by the board to install $1 million artificial turf fields at Atholton and Hammond high schools through a state grant generated by revenue from an increased alcohol tax.

A point of contention among board members in approving the fields was a lack of a joint-use agreement between the school system and the county department of Recreation and Parks, an agreement, said Ken Roey, the schools' executive director of facilities, planning and management, that was being worked on and would go before the board for approval in the spring.

Chief among the issues artificial turf and the joint-use agreement creates is that of lighting. Currently, the school system has agreements with local communities that field lights are only lit on certain days and for certain times. Lights will be on more often if Recreation and Parks is also using the field and have a greater impact on nearby properties.

"The scope of the impact needs to be fully vetted, in public, with people having an opportunity to weigh in on it so we make sure when we craft these agreements we don't miss something," said board member Ellen Giles.

Lastly, the council and board discussed student safety and the communication process, specifically in regards to a North Laurel incident last year in which a group of young men accosted a school bus with students on it. Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, who represents the area, said she was not aware of the incident until a week after it had occurred.

And some council members didn't learn until the Tuesday meeting of another incident that occurred after a girls basketball game Jan. 13 at Oakland Mills when the visiting River Hill team had its bus pelted with rocks.

Council members urged the board to establish a better plan for communication in regards to such incidents.

"The concern is the time lag," said councilman Calvin Ball.