Pot Spring parents object to Mays Chapel redistricting plan

A group of parents and community members from Pot Spring Elementary spoke out Tuesday against both the process and results of the Mays Chapel Elementary School redistricting committee, which they say will put undue stress on its teachers because of the school's proposed socioeconomic makeup.

Many of the six speakers from Pot Spring Elementary spoke out to the school board against their school's increasing percentage of students who will receive free and reduced meals, which they referred to as "FARM" students, who will attend the school under the presented scenario.

"We should not be bar-belling the results to create rich and poor schools by squeezing the balloon in the middle, but trying to equalize across many of the schools," Cockeysville resident Michael Matson said Tuesday before the Baltimore County Board of Education.

The boundary scenario presented to the board creates a student population for the new Mays Chapel Elementary, which opens in August, and alleviates overcrowding at several York Road corridor schools. It was drawn over the course of six meetings of the redistricting committee from October to January. The committee consisted of PTA representatives, teachers, and principals from 10 schools from Towson to Sparks.

The committee was charged with, among other things, maintaining walkability and diversity, balancing student population, and honoring natural and neighborhood boundaries.

The committee voted Jan. 6 on the option presented to the school board Tuesday. Option B1, which was selected by a single vote, leaves the southernmost schools such as Riderwood and Hampton unaffected, while drawing students from schools including Pot Spring, Pinewood, Lutherville, Padonia International, and Warren to Mays Chapel.

Under Option B1, Pot Spring's enrollment drops from 578 students to 427, according to BCPS data provided to the redistricting committee. The speakers said the school's socioeconomic makeup would be too dramatically altered by the boundary change. The percentage of FARM students increases from 41 percent to 48 percent, though the number of these students drops from 237 to 204.

Speakers from the school community said a high percentage of such students in each classroom would make teachers jobs more difficult.

Justin Buckingham, a Pot Spring parent and social psychology professor at Towson University, presented the board with research that showed a strong correlation between a school's FARM percentage and student achievement.

"Such a student is clearly in need of extra help, attention, and remediation from their teacher to help close the gap," Steve Shaw, a Pot Spring parent and chair of the Dulaney High science department, said.

Shaw said that when considering the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced meals within the context of a 20-student class, 10 students in each Pot Spring class could be eligible. On the other end of the spectrum, Pinewood's six-percent free and reduced meal population puts an average of one student in a 20-student classroom.

When Mays Chapel 27 percent of its students will be eligible for free and reduced meals. Among area schools, Padonia Elementary has the highest proportion of eligible students with 62 percent.

The public comment portion came before a presentation from Matt Cropper, the consultant who led the redistricting committee. In the eyes of some of the board members, the complaints about the school's diversity overshadowed the rationale he explained for how the committee arrived at the presented option.

School board member Michael Collins noted that there were "a lot of unhappy people" at the meeting, citing the hundreds present to oppose the Hereford High schedule change, and said, "The last thing we need is another senseless fight around here."

Collins suggested that just a handful of students could be added to the proposed Pot Spring boundary to bring its FARM percentage back down.

After a lengthy, and at times contentious discussion, he presented a motion to direct BCPS staff to do so. The motion failed without a second, and several board members rebuked him for the idea that they would pick and choose students for such a purpose.

"We're sitting here talking about these kids in an acronym that says they're less than something else," board member Edward Parker said. "I'm disturbed, I really am. I think we're here to do the best for every student in Baltimore County, whatever it is, whatever it takes."

Parents also took issue with the process. Michael Quinn, the Pot Spring Elementary PTA president, who had served as the committee's chair, indicated during the meeting that he withheld his vote to use as a tiebreaker on the final vote between the two final options because he "explicitly" told that both options under consideration would be presented to the board. Had he voted, the two options would have been tied, he said.

Cropper said at the Jan. 6 meeting that the options would go through several administrative steps before it was presented to the board, and BCPS Superintendent Dallas Dance indicated it was his decision to present just one to the board.

Dance said he has "not known a boundary situation that is easy," but said he was very clear with staff on the process.

"When the process ended, I know the vote was an 11-10 vote—as close as it could obviously be," he said. "But it was a vote. … With that being said, this is the superintendent's recommendation."

A public hearing is scheduled before the Board of Education on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. at Loch Raven High, and the board will vote on a recommendation at its March 11 meeting.

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