Anne Arundel parents oppose plans to redistrict three elementary schools

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education is scheduled to vote next month on the school system's plans to redistrict three elementary schools in the southern part of the county.

The board is expected to vote at its April 18 meeting on a proposal to move some students from Central Elementary School, which school officials say is over capacity, to Mayo and Davidsonville elementary schools. According to board policy, the redistricting process must be concluded by April 30.

But the emotions regarding the matter probably aren't going away any time soon.

The redistricting efforts began in October, and the process was amicable at first. During the first redistricting meeting, Chuck Yocum, Anne Arundel schools specialist in student demographic planning, said, "This has been one of the funnest [redistricting] meetings I've had."

Yet as the redistricting committee met subsequently to vote on proposals, it met with opposition from residents of several South County communities who objected to the plans and the process.

Since then, opposition has grown and become more volatile, as evidenced during a public hearing on the matter Tuesday night at South River High School.

Most speakers who voiced opposition were parents of pupils at Central Elementary. They said that two of the reasons the board decided to address Central's overcrowding — traffic problems around the school and difficulty getting all students fed on time during lunch — are unfounded.

They argued that Central's parent organization and volunteer efforts would suffer if students were moved to Mayo and Davidsonville.

Some parents said the school board should delay the decision until a comprehensive redistricting study of the southern part of the county is conducted. And some added that the school board should instead continue focusing on Edgewater Elementary, which has been the subject of concerns about indoor air quality.

"We have been called a school in crisis, and we're not," said Central Elementary parent Amy Burgess, alluding to comments made at a previous meeting by Anne Arundel schools' chief operating officer, Alex Szachnowicz. "For families and parents like me who are very much invested in our school, those words hurt. Central Elementary is not a school in crisis. The school in crisis is Edgewater Elementary."

"This is not a school with any problems," said Central Elementary parent Glen Carter. "If there were issues, if there was overcrowding, and my children were not getting an education or other issues, I would be here asking to move to Davidsonville or some other school."

Redistricting, Carter added, would be "putting the children, the families, the schools through an unnecessary change and an administrative burden when it's not needed."

Central Elementary parent Tyra Mims, who said her son would be redistricted to Mayo Elementary, said she recently took a tour of Mayo's community and added, "I was astonished at the fact that there is a community literally right beside Mayo Elementary" whose children do not attend the school.

"And you're going to ask my child to be bused into Mayo, and all those children who already live in Mayo don't attend Mayo," Mims said.

Central Elementary parent Debbie Mikutsky called the redistricting plan "piecemeal," and echoed the call for the board to delay the process until a redistricting plan for the entire South County is conducted.

"How can you responsibly proceed with the superintendent's redistricting plan when it only addresses one small piece of the pie?" Mikutsky asked.

Among those who spoke in favor of the proposal was Daniel Hurson, an Annapolis Landing resident. "As I see this, it is an overcrowding issue and not some of the issues that have been brought up tonight," said Hurson. "I have children who will be entering the school system in the next three to four years, and I'm concerned about what has been described as an overcrowding issue."

After the hearing, Yocum said that the responses were what he expected, and added, "Two years ago, the board looked at redistricting the entire region, and the community came up with reasons to not do it and asked for time. And the board, to its credit, gave it two years to see what would happen, and enrollment continued to grow.

"Every time there's redistricting, there will always be reasons from the community to not do it, and that's to be expected," Yocum added.

Szachnowicz said concerns about Central Elementary lunch lines came from the school system's observations and comments from the school's staff.

"That school was originally designed to hold hundreds of kids less. The kitchen has not been expanded and the cafeteria has not expanded," Szachnowicz said. "Since that time, we have added a six-room addition, five portables. The school is still over capacity. The school is designed for 500-plus kids, and we're almost at 800.

"We have to do something with one of our most crowded elementary schools," Szachnowicz said. "The arrival and dismissal times are hugely problematic. Folks feel that the classrooms are manageable. It's manageable because you have all of these portable classrooms, and it is the explicit desire of this Board of Education to have all of our children inside the four walls of our building."

The board heard testimony regarding a proposal by a developer to redistrict the Enclave of Reidel Pond in Crofton from Nantucket Elementary to Crofton Meadows Elementary and from Crofton Middle to Arundel Middle.

The board also met Wednesday night and voted to support a petition drive by the school system's four bargaining units to revise the county's property tax cap.

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