New feasibility study recommends redistricting 16 percent of Howard County students

New feasibility study recommends redistricting 16 percent of county students

More than 8,700 students, or 16 percent of students in the Howard County Public School System, could attend different schools in the 2018-2019 school year according to redistricting recommendations released in the school planning office's 2017 feasibility study.

The bulk of students affected by redistricting comes from the elementary school level, at 4,016 students; followed by 3,691 students from high schools and 1,076 students from middle schools.

The feasibility study was unveiled at a June Board of Education meeting and provides a comprehensive analysis of current and projected student populations at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The study allows school planners to make early recommendations to address over- and under-capacity schools, such as building new schools, expanding current schools or redistricting students.

The process continues with input from the Board of Education, the attendance area committee, the schools superintendent and community members before coming back to board members, who will make a final decision this November.

Renee Kamen, the school system's planning manager, said the 2017 feasibility study's recommendations are not concrete, but start discussions between the school system and the public on what needs to be done through 2027.

"It really comes down to how are we using our facilities, what type of demographics shift before and after [redistricting], and what does the community stability look like," Kamen said.

According to the 2017 feasibility study, eight elementary schools, four middle schools and four high schools will exceed capacity in 2018 and go beyond the board's policy to utilize between 90 and 110 percent of a building's capacity.

Many elementary schools, particularly in the northern and eastern regions of the county, are facing capacity issues. The latest feasibility study anticipates Manor Woods and Ducketts Lane elementaries to be the most overcapacity at 126 percent and 133 percent, respectively, by the 2018-2019 school year. Veterans, Centennial Lane, Bryant Woods and Fulton elementaries are among those expected to be just over capacity.

In the western part of the county, elementary schools like Lisbon and West Friendship elementaries are projected to rest at 85 percent and 80 percent capacity, respectively, while Bushy Park and Dayton Oaks elementaries are expected to stay below capacity.

The planning office recommends moving elementary students further west to alleviate overcapacity elementary schools in the east and balance their student populations.

After students are moved, Kamen said, the school system can use the new capacities at Waverly and Swansfield elementaries to balance overall capacity in the northern and western Columbia areas in 2018, adding 144 seats and 100 seats, respectively.

Growing populations have led officials to consider increasing the allotted number of students at all elementary schools from 600 to 788, beginning with Elementary School 42, which opens with 788 seats in Hanover in 2018. However, enrollment projections in the feasibility study were lower than anticipated, Kamen said, "because as we get closer to the year that we're projecting, our enrollment projections get a little bit more accurate."

"For 2017, it was slightly lower at the elementary school level, but we still anticipate growth at the elementary school level by about 4,000 new students by 2026," she said.

The feasibility study shows Elementary School 43 opening in 2023 in the southeastern region and Elementary School 44 opening in 2027 in the west Columbia region, both with 788 seats. Elementary School 45 would then open in 2029 in the northern region with the same number of seats.

The majority of middle schools should be within capacity by 2018, the study shows, with only Ellicott Mills and Harpers Choice middle schools overcapacity.

Bruce Gist, the executive director of capital planning for county schools, said 156 additional seats were requested at Ellicott Mills in 2021 rather than 2024 as originally requested. An additional 97 seats at Dunloggin Middle would be pushed from 2020 to 2021, he said.

Wilde Lake Middle is expected to be below capacity at 77 percent in 2018, while Clarksville and Patuxent Valley middle schools are predicted at 80 percent and 89 percent, respectively.

Middle school redistricting would see students branch out from the center of the county, bringing Bonnie Branch Middle just over capacity at 112 percent as opposed to its current 106 percent.

"The proposed plan involves all of the middle schools with the exception of Hammond Middle School," Kamen said. "It's just a scenario we tested [and] is not to mean that something won't change because we're at the beginning of the process."

Shifting west

Similar to elementary schools, the study shows high school redistricting having students shift west to alleviate the overcapacity at Mt. Hebron, Centennial, Howard and Long Reach high schools. This will also better utilize the under-capacity high schools, Kamen said, like Oakland Mills, Marriotts Ridge, River Hill and Glenelg.

Kamen said student populations at 11 of the county's 12 high schools will be moved in some capacity — some more than others — leaving Reservoir High unaffected.

If executed properly, she said, all 12 high schools will be within capacity for the 2018-2019 school year; however, some will still be on the higher end of the target utilization.

"While it does provide relief to those schools that are severely overcrowded, like Howard, Long Reach, Centennial and Mt. Hebron, the plan lasts about a year or two," Kamen said. "It does provide relief for a little longer, but the population at the high school level is such that by 2022, we will still have high schools over capacity."


The study has drawn some reaction from county parents. Kuljinder Kaur said her two children, who currently attend Mount View Middle and Marriotts Ridge High schools, would be redistricted to Folly Quarter Middle and Glenelg High schools under the early feasibility study recommendations. The family moved from Anne Arundel County about three years ago, she said, to have their children attend Howard County's top-rated schools.

"My son will be in the middle of high school when he has to make this adjustment," Kaur said. "He has to get his recommendation letters together for college and take the SATs and ACTs. I don't want to disrupt his studies."

Kamen reinterated that the feasibililty study only presents early recommendations in a longer process.

The long-range master plan, presented in the feasibility study, shows renovated, replaced and new schools costing nearly $1.5 between fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2027.

"We generally like to look ahead 10 years and back our way down from that because we can anticipate certain levels of funding from the county and state," Gist said. "We have to put placeholders in and we use elements of the feasibility study to make adjustments to the capital budget process, which starts July 11."

The attendance area committee meets Tuesdays, except July 4, to discuss the feasibility study's recommendations and create a plan, which will then be presented to the public and the superintendent. Regional meetings will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 12 and 13 at Wilde Lake High and Howard High, respectively, followed by the superintendent's recommendations in October.

The Board of Education is expected to hold two public hearings and four work sessions beginning in late October and throughout November, making a final decision on Nov. 16.

This story has been updated to remove incorrect information on the county's plans for High School 13.

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