Foose's middle school redistricting plan backed by board

With preliminary approval Tuesday night, the Howard County Board of Education is moving forward with plans to redistrict 1,177 middle school students next year.

After two public hearings, three work sessions and an abundance of community concerns and feedback, the plan moved forward by the board is the same one Superintendent Renee Foose presented in October.

There were no changes to the plan, which was approved by a vote of 4-3, with board members Brian Meshkin, Cindy Vaillancourt and Janet Siddiqui voting against it and voting in favor of another plan created out of several other proposals.

Those who voted in favor of the superintendent's plan cited several reasons for their votes, chief among them the concern that not enough public notice was given to communities that could have been impacted by the redistricting proposed during recent work sessions.

For instance, it was briefly proposed that more of Elkridge Landing Middle School's attendance areas be moved to the new Hanover middle school, which the community hadn't had a chance to testify on.

"I don't see that the (benefits of) movement in the south negate the lack of notice (to testify) in the north," said Sandra French, who voted for the superintendent's plan. "I have a problem with that. We need to be consistent in terms of involving everyone."

A final, official approval comes Thursday, Nov. 21.

As proposed, the redistricting will impact nine middle schools, including one currently being built in the Oxford Square development in Hanover. The primary goal of the redistricting was to fill the new middle school, and opinions varied among board members during work sessions as to how many students should go to the new school.

Plans discussed included sending fewer students to the new middle school, but in the end, it didn't matter.

The plans concocted during the work sessions — like keeping the Emerson community at Murray Hill Middle, leaving the Meadowridge Landing community at Mayfield Woods, and moving more students out of Hammond Middle to Lime Kiln — were all scrubbed with the preliminary approval of Foose's plan.

Ideas toying with westward movement and relieving several Ellicott City middle schools also fell by the wayside. Community concern over Wilde Lake Middle School was mentioned briefly discussed during a work session last week, but no proposals during the work sessions included shifting that school's boundary lines.

Meshkin said that sweeping the public testimony and community concerns aside was "out of character" for the board, especially since the plan crafted Tuesday night before receiving its failing vote brought together suggestions from several board members and acquiesced to numerous community concerns.

Emerson parents at the work session were audibly upset when Foose's plan was approved — the plan that sends their neighborhood to Patuxent Valley. After the meeting, several approached board members and said those who voted in favor have lost their future votes, and the community will campaign against them in coming elections.

The board also considered "grandfathering" eighth-grade students impacted by the redistricting, allowing them to stay at their original schools for their last year. To do so, said Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning, transportation would have to be provided for the more than 300 eighth-graders who will be redistricted, should they want to stay at their original school. That would be at a cost of about $500,000, Gallihue said.

Meshkin, Vaillancourt and Siddiqui voted in favor of allowing the eighth-graders to remain at their original schools, but those who voted against it cited a possible inequity.

For that same reason, open enrollment also was voted down. This is the third year Meshkin has proposed open enrollment following redistricting.

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