After a summer of work by the school system's Attendance Area Committee, the plan for a massive 2013 redistricting of county schools is starting to come together, one that could affect more than 2,500 Howard County students.
More than a hundred people gathered at Howard High School Tuesday night, Sept. 11, as school system officials shared two draft plans for redistricting next year. Those plans — a staff plan presented in June with the 2012 Feasibility Study and another created by the Attendance Area Committee, known as L10 — likely will be combined in a hybrid proposal to go before the Board of Education Oct. 18, said Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning.
Gallihue and his team have been meeting with local PTAs at schools potentially affected by the redistricting, but Tuesday was the first of two community meetings designed to inform people about what Gallihue called an admittedly complex process.
"The more people understand, the more effective they are in communicating their input to the Board of Education," he said.
Dozens of the people gathered were holding signs that read "I Support L10." They were from the Ellicott City neighborhoods of Brampton Hills, Dunteachin, Montgomery Meadows, Sunny Field, Worthington and Wheatfield, which those who were there said support the L10 plan because it puts more focus on a domino shift to use under-capacity schools in the western portion of the county, and focuses more on long-term solutions.
"What's best about the L10 plan is that it solves the problems (of overcrowding) without further neighborhood disruption, creating islands and unnecessarily moving children from their schools," said Jeremy Goldman, a Wheatfield resident whose son currently attends Waterloo but could be moved to Veterans Elementary if L10 is adopted.
Supporters of L10 said it could move up to 200 fewer students in the 2013 redistricting. The redistricting will accommodate a new elementary school on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge, which would relieve overcrowded Elkridge, Bellows Springs, Rockburn and Waterloo elementary schools, as well as balance capacity in East Columbia schools.
There are several differences between L10 and the staff plan, including the shift of different neighborhoods from Elkridge Elementary to the new Ducketts Lane school; a shift of students from Manor Woods to West Friendship Elementary; and some movement to alleviate Swansfield, a Columbia school not included in the staff's original draft plan.
"Staff didn't address it because Swansfield has assigned relocatable (classrooms) ... and we're looking at later additions in the area, and with Downtown Columbia planning," Gallihue said. "We had considered waiting on that."
With L10, students could be moved from Swansfield to Clemens Crossing Elementary, and students from Clemens Crossing moved to Pointers Run Elementary. Some Pointers Run students could then be moved to Clarksville.
Pointers Run was part of the redistricting that took effect at the start of this school year, and policy stipulates that students can't be redistricted more often than every five years.
However, that rule only applies to students and not schools, according to Ken Roey, executive director of facilities, planning and management. A school, he said, could be redistricted every year as long as the same students were not moved.
Even with the five-year rule, parents expressed concern that drastic redistricting could severely alter the culture of their children's school. In the case of Veterans, for example, half the student body could go to a new school. The last major redistricting undertaken by the school system was in 2007 to open Veterans.
"Veterans is in a unique situation because no matter what plan is approved, we lose a significant portion of a population," said Veterans mother Tara Pinkler, who said she did not support the L10 plan from the committee.
Her neighborhood, Pinkler said, attended St. John's Lane Elementary for years, but was moved to Veterans in 2007. Now, Pinkler's neighborhood would be moved back to St. John's Lane under L10.
"We're overcrowded and we need to lose hundreds of students, and that's going to create dissatisfaction wherever you turn," she said. "No matter what, we're losing families that we love."
School system staff will make their final recommendation to the board Oct. 18. Public hearings will follow on Oct. 23 and 25. Board work sessions are scheduled for Nov. 7, 8 and 13, with a vote set for Nov. 15. All will be held at the board room in the Department of Education, in Ellicott City.
To view the 2012 Feasibility Study and L10 in their entirety, go to hcpss.org/boundarylines.