At the end of the Dec. 9 meeting on redistricting elementary schools in southwest Baltimore County, organizer Matt Cropper asked for a final tally of thoughts on the plans in front of the Southwest Boundary Committee.
"Group 4 will talk about Option 4," said Cropper, president of contractor Cropper GIS. "That's a tongue twister, isn't it?"
A few minutes before, parent Colleen Robinson had left for just that reason — in a process relying heavily on a committee of 44 weighing different options for redistricting, she felt the people's voice was being lost.
She had heard a lot of options, but no personal stories to back them up, she said.
Robinson, whose young daughter spent most of the meeting under headphones in the "observer" section of the Catonsville High School cafeteria, currently lives in an area districted for Hillcrest Elementary. The committee had narrowed the options to four maps — all of which put her family out of Hillcrest. But after campaigning and comments from her and her neighbors, new options were added at the Dec. 9 meeting.
Keeping her daughter in Hillcrest was back on the table.
"They just brush over why they need these new blocks," she said. "We just want to stay a part of that neighborhood, that community."
Keeping the neighborhoods together was a theme echoed by other parents and community members who came to watch the committee meeting. In November, hundreds showed up at a public information meeting where people were allowed to speak, but during regular Southwest Boundary Committee meetings, people are only supposed to observe the group, made up of parents, teachers, principals and community members. The committee has met six times on the issue.
Overcrowding in area schools is what has brought about the redistricting process, which includes 11 schools in the area.
Nine of those schools are overcrowded, but not all parents see redistricting every school as a solution to that problem. China Williams, president of the Westowne Elementary Parent Teacher Association, was pleased to see that district untouched; a new building with higher capacity scheduled to open next fall will relieve overcrowding there.
At Johnnycake Elementary a new facility is the solution Yvette Gould favors, but when that possibility was brought up to officials at the meeting they said it was being considered and nothing concrete was planned.
The field of options for redistricting has expanded from four to seven, which include four iterations of the map most of the public supported through an online survey — Option 3, which was formerly Option I. The new options mostly deal with Westchester, Hillcrest and Catonsville elementary boundaries.
Christine Kamt, a mother living in an area currently districted for Hillcrest that could change to Catonsville Elementary, is concerned that her daughter will be sent to a different middle school than her elementary classmates. "She would basically be losing all her friends as she's going to middle school," Kamt said.
Two altered forms of Option 3, Option 3.2 and 3.2a, would keep her family in Hillcrest.
Other Hillcrest parents had the same concern but later asked to not be named in this article — the process was contentious, they said, and they feared anger and retribution from other parents.
The Dec. 9 meeting had been scheduled to be the last on the issue, but one more has been added to give enough time to finish the process. It will be held Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. at Catonsville High School. At that meeting committee members will pick a map to bring to the school board, which will then issue a final decision.
For updated maps, go to catonsvilletimes.com and www.bcps.org/construction/southwest.