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Hearing on new Timonium school's boundaries draws fire

PTA

Wednesday's public hearing on the proposed boundaries for the new elementary school in Mays Chapel illustrated the clear divide between the communities for which the $28 million school is being built to serve.

Forty-five parents spoke at the meeting held at Loch Raven High, which was attended by several hundred residents. The public forum during which the public provided input on the redistricting process had the largest attendance yet since the process began in October and which involves 10 central-area schools.

The boundary study committee, charged with making recommendations to the Board of Education and which included parents, staff, and principals, developed more than a dozen possible boundary solutions to fill the new elementary school. The committee was told to take into account building utilization, natural boundaries and maintaining diversity, among other things. 

The committee ultimately narrowed its options to one recommendation to be presented to the school board at the board's Jan. 6 meeting. The option known as Option B1 topped Option A1 by one vote — though the committee was given the understanding that both options would be presented to the board. So far, the board has only formally heard Option B1, though it plans to hear Option A1 at its March 11 meeting. Advocates for both options were out in nearly equal numbers to lobby for their preferred scenarios. Board of Education President Lawrence Schmidt said he tallied 22 speakers in support of Option A1, and 23 in support of Option B1.

At the front of the room Wednesday, a group primarily composed of Riderwood families were all dressed in green and held signs indicating they support Option B1. That scenario leaves Riderwood's current boundary intact and fills the Mays Chapel school with students from both sides of York Road. 

Joel Signor, the evening's first speaker and Riderwood's PTA president, said the school supported Option B1 because the school doesn't need the overcrowding relief that Option A1 would provide. He said kindergarten enrollment for 2014 is low, and an unrelated BCPS decision to move students across the county from concentrated Adaptive Learning Support programs back to their home schools would add more classroom space at Riderwood going forward.

Tess Frederick, a mother of four who lives in Riderwood, told the board of the Riderwood area's past — and possible future — with redistricting. Frederick said her family was moved to West Towson Elementary when that school was built, then bought a new house in Riderwood because it was "our community."

"Now here it is, two years later, and we're being threatened with redistricting again," Frederick said. "If Riderwood is redistricted now, and again when Cromwell Valley Elementary School's expansion is completed, our school would go through (this process) three times in six years. That has to be in the forefront of your mind."

Many Riderwood speakers also validated the process by which Option B1 was chosen, saying the committee did its job and provided a strong option for the whole area.

All around them, Pot Spring Elementary parents dressed in blue continued their fervent lobbying of the school board to instead consider Option A1, which takes students from five schools but draws students mostly from the west side of York Road.

At the last several school board meetings, a group of Pot Spring parents have spoken about Option B1's possible impact on its socio-economic diversity. Either plan provides capacity relief for Pot Spring, which is currently 164 students over its state-rated capacity of 477.

In Option B1, the percentage of students who receive free and reduced meals, which Pot Spring's advocates said is an indicator of poorer school performance, increases from 41 percent to 48 percent — though the number of those students decreases from 234 to 204. Many of the Pot Spring parents said that percentage is over the district-wide average of 20 percent, and that Option B1 creates an inequity between the schools.

"We know this is a difficult process," said Jodi Taylor, a Pot Spring parent who followed the process on her PTA's redistricting subcommittee. "I don't envy you and your decision, but it is important you make a fair and equitable one —one that is fair to all schools."

Some parents from areas west of I-83, whose proximity to the new school in Mays Chapel made their redistricting to it inevitable, decried their lack of a voice in the process. While the 10 established schools were represented, they said, the Mays Chapel school was not.

"We have had no voice, no institution representing us, unlike the many parents not being redistricted who have had a voice through strong, established PTAs and other mechanisms," Jesse Hersh, a Pinewood parent, said.

Before the meeting, Schmidt detailed how the process would go forward, emphasizing the BCPS statutes that say the board could still change the maps and would ultimately have the final say.

Though Option A1 will be heard formally by the board on March 11, Schmidt said that the board would not vote A1 or B1 at its March 25 meeting, but instead on whether to accept B1 or not.

If Option B1 is not accepted, a board member can move to vote on Option A1, or any other option the board picks out.

"It will probably be (Option A1 or Option B1), to be quite honest with you," Schmidt said. "But it does not necessarily have to be."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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