Baltimore County schools committee announces plan for redistricting elementaries

Catonsville Times

The Southwest Boundary Committee, during a meeting Dec. 16 at Catonsville High School, selected a redistricting plan that would change the boundaries for Westchester, Hillcrest, Catonsville, Relay, Arbutus and Halethorpe elementary schools.

Under the plan, known as 3.2b, Westchester would expand to absorb the southwestern part of Hillcrest. The eastern part of Hillcrest would move to the new Catonsville Elementary. The new Catonsville also would pick up students from the northern part of Halethorpe; Relay would add students from Arbutus and Halethorpe.

The plan will be sent to Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance by Feb. 2. A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for Feb. 18 at Catonville High. With the superintendent’s recommendations in hand, the school board is scheduled to announce its final decision on March 1.

“I’m happy with the result,” said Matt Cropper, committee organizer and president of Cropper GIS, contracted by the Baltimore County school system to manage the process.

“We have a recommendation that represents the majority of the committee. They chose the plan that is the best for kids in all the areas,” he said.

At the meeting, the seventh and final meeting of a process that began in September, the 44-member committee of community members, parents, teachers and principals reviewed a total of seven plans. Four were variations on Plan 3, the most popular option of an online survey of the public.

The plans involved 11 out of 13 elementary schools in the southwest area and were judged on the basis of natural boundaries, walkability, neighborhood continuity, balanced enrollment and future growth.

Cropper noted that the committee requested that the recommendation include a notation to incorporate elements of another plan, specifically that the southern part of Halethorpe be sent to Relay instead of remaining at Halethorpe.

Along with the recommended plan, the committee will also present information about two plans — 3.2a and 3.3 — that were among the final three, Cropper said. While somewhat similar to Plan 3.2b, “both have differences from that plan — different shapes,” said Cropper.

Before the voting process began, Sara Detwiler, Jonnycake Elementary School’s representative to the committee, objected to what another committee member called the “last-moment” addition of variations on Plan 3.

“Plan 3.3 is a weird map. I can’t see how any parent can look at 3.3 and say it makes sense for their child,” Detwiler said of a plan that spans U.S. 40, also called Baltimore National Pike. “Our community feels frustrated. We feel like no one cares what happens to Jonnycake.”

Christine Kamt, parent of a Hillcrest Elementary kindergartner, preferred Plan 3.2a. “It moves the least amount of children — 317 kids out of 11 schools,” she said. “The plan does a great job of maintaining the feeder pattern. The children can be with their friends through middle and high school.”

Jason Palmeteer, father of a kindergartner at Hillcrest, favored plans 3.2 and 3.2a for the same reason. “Not only does my child stay in Hillcrest but also for middle school,” he said.

Bill Meier, a Hillcrest resident who attended Hillcrest Elementary and Catonsville Middle schools, didn’t have a favorite plan. But Meier, whose children have already graduated from elementary school, did have an opinion.

“We’re doing the process for elementary schools, but it is not looking at middle schools. The population bubble [that is causing elementary school overcrowding] will work its way up to middle schools in three to four years,” he said.

Likewise, state Del. Eric Ebersole, D-District 12, did not have a favorite plan but attended the meeting to show support for parents.

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions, especially about Hillcrest Elementary,” said Ebersole, who as a delegate has no say in the process.

“Everyone’s got a case” for their plan, he said. “A lot of school construction is taking place in the southwest district,” he said, referring to the building of new elementary schools at Westowne, Relay and Catonsville, and the construction of an addition at Westchester Elementary.

“Capabilities are changing. It’s hard to make everyone happy,” said Ebersole.

Karin Wilson and Kim Welch Roberson were hopeful before the committee decision. Each has two children at Hillcrest Elementary and wanted Plan 4, the only option that kept their section, officially titled Planning Block 351, within Hillcrest Elementary’s boundary.

“We’re not concerned about Catonsville Elementary — it’s a great school,” Roberson said of the school to which their children would be redistricted under the other plans. “But it breaks up the neighborhood.”

“Our kids only know a couple of other kids at Catonsville Elementary. It means going to another school” than the one their friends attend, said Wilson.

When the meeting began at 6 p.m., about 40 people were in attendance to observe the proceedings. By the time the meeting ended two hours later, a couple of dozen were left.

“We’re disappointed,” Wilson and Roberson said of the committee’s rejection of Plan 4, while parents who preferred Plan 3 and its variations expressed agreement with the decision.

Cropper was pleased about the number of students who will be affected by the boundary changes.

“We are impacting only about 300 students,” he said.

If you go

The Baltimore County Board of Education will hold a public hearing on redistricting Plan 3.2b at the Catonsville High School cafeteria on Thursday, Feb. 18. For more information, go to www.bcps.org/construction/southwest.

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