Wrangling over boundaries for new Timonium elementary continues

A group of Timonium residents who are unhappy with a proposed redistricting map for the elementary school being built in Mays Chapel are lobbying Baltimore County's Board of Education to consider a second option prior to a public hearing on Wednesday.

The second option was one of two boundary scenarios that a committee charged with making a recommendation narrowed down from several others to give to Superintendent Dallas Dance. But when the committee's findings were presented to the Board of Education, only the committee's first choice was on the table.

Now the residents from the Pot Spring and Pinewood elementary areas want the second boundary scenario — the option they prefer — back in the mix.

"Given that the boundary study committee intended to have both options presented to the board, it is only fair that (the two options voted on by the committee) are considered when the board votes on March 11," Jodi Taylor, a member of Pot Spring Elementary's PTA subcommittee on the issue, said in a letter she, some Pot Spring parents, and some Pinewood Elementary parents submitted to the Board of Education. "This is an important decision that will affect BCPS students for many years to come. It is critical that the board make a fair decision based on all of the data."

The redistricting boundary committee met for six sessions between October and January and was made up of teachers, principals and parents from 10 elementary schools that could be affected by the redistricting.

During the final meeting on Jan. 6, consultant Matthew Cropper of Cropper GIS, who led the sessions, told the committee before they voted that two options — their first and second choices — would go forward to the school system to give them representative options of the committee's work.

"We don't anticipate and don't want to make any changes to your recommendations, because we feel like your recommendations are good, but we want to make sure that the school district, school board, administrators have the benefit of looking at the variety of the options that you have brought forward so far," Cropper said at the Jan. 6 meeting just before the voting began.

The committee then voted between the final two options — narrowed from four earlier during that meeting — to establish a preference between the two. Option B1, which draws students from both sides of York Road to the new school, won 11-10 over Option A1, which mainly draws students only from the west side of York Road.

Cropper told the committee that the group's choices would be given to Superintendent Dallas Dance on Jan. 13, and then presented to the BCPS administrative cabinet on Jan. 27. The options would be presented to the Board of Education at the Feb. 11 meeting, he said.

During one of those intermediate steps, however, Dance decided to move forward with only the committee's top choice, Option B1. Dance said at the Feb. 11 board meeting that he did so because he respected the committee's vote. BCPS Chief Communications Officer Mychael Dickerson later said in an email that it was the committee, not Dance, who picked Option B1.

Critics of the plan take issue with the vote as do residents in the Pot Spring communities. During the Feb. 11 board meeting, Michael Quinn, who chaired the redistricting committee and served as Pot Spring's PTA representative, said he was told to withhold his vote at the final meeting in case of a tie, and indicated he did so because he was assured by Cropper that both options would go forward.

In addition to Quinn's no-vote, anonymous paper slip ballots were used instead of having committee members put stickers on scenario maps to vote their preferences.

Critics also took issue with the number of votes cast. The final vote at the Jan. 6 meeting was 11-10. BCPS policy prevents principals from voting.

West Towson, Hampton and Sparks each had only one voting member — a PTA representative — because those schools were least likely to be affected by the redistricting. However, Hampton added a second voting representative after the second meeting as an alternate, as did several other schools. By the final meeting, Riderwood had three PTA alternates, though no school had more than three voting members at the Jan. 6 meeting. The other seven schools had two voting members — a PTA representative and a staff member. Including Quinn, 18 votes should have been cast from that pool at the final meeting.

According to the meeting sign-in sheet from the Jan. 6 meeting, 21 voting members attended the meeting. With Quinn's vote withheld, the vote totals do not add up.

Taylor, the Pot Spring PTA member, attended the Feb. 11 board meeting with several other parents who spoke about Option B1's inequity of distribution of students who receive free and reduced lunches. Under scenario B1, Pot Spring will have a disproportionately high rate of such students, who they say studies show are more likely to need extra assistance in the classroom, but the rate is unlikely to be high enough to warrant extra funding.

Taylor said she and other residents who emailed the board received a blanket response from the board that said they had access to all of the data, report, and scenarios from the process, including Option A1.

"Although the recommendation from the committee that was brought before the Board was Option B1, individual Board members met with staff to receive an orientation regarding the boundary process and to review the differences between Option A1 and B1," the response said.

The public hearing on the Mays Chapel redistricting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at Loch Raven High School, 1212 Cowpens Avenue, Towson. Sign-in for speakers begins at 6 p.m.

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