School redistricting plan might change for Ellicott City neighborhoods

Though no decision will be made for two weeks, some Ellicott City neighborhoods may be facing a less drastic change when it comes to redistricting.

"The Veterans (Elementary) island that is being created here, I am totally opposed to it being bussed all the way to Waverly (Elementary)," Board Chairwoman Sandra French said at the board's first work session on elementary school redistricting Wednesday, Oct. 31.

The neighborhoods, which currently attend overcrowded Veterans Elementary School, were first suggested to be moved to St. John's Lane Elementary as part of the feasibility study presented in June, and again as part of the L10, the much-heralded final draft from the attendance area committee.

But when Superintendent Renee Foose presented her final proposal to the board Oct. 18, no students were being shifted to St. John's Lane, and Veterans students were proposed to attend Waverly — shifting them from one overcrowded school to create another, and creating a massive non-contiguous attendance area.

At two public hearings, Veterans' families cried foul, and while reaction to Foose's plan was generally split down the middle, the support was largely coming from St. John's Lane families.

French and other board members said bussing students so far from their homes made them uncomfortable, and French said the board should be "minimizing the educational impact on a child."

Board members suggested the students in those Ellicott City neighborhoods should be sent to Hollifield Station Elementary and St. John's, both closer to their homes, or to Northfield Elementary.

"The goal is to have those students and families closer to schools in their area," French said.

"What I can think of, that works well, is take this whole section and move it to St. John's Lane, and relieve the northern (attendance area) of St. John's (by sending them) to Waverly," suggested Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning.

The board asked Gallihue and his staff to create several scenarios for the board to review.

Before the work session adjourned, board member Janet Siddiqui said that at the next work session, she would like to discuss the Brampton Hills and Wheatfield neighborhoods of Ellicott City, whose students currently attend Waterloo Elementary, even though Veterans is in sight of many houses in those neighborhoods. The feasibility study sent those neighborhoods to Thunder Hill Elementary, in Columbia, while L10 sent them to Veterans.

"Since we're talking about distance on a bus, I'm going to bring up Wheatfield and Brampton Hills, and see if we can put them in anywhere," Siddiqui said.

Foose's plan did not include those neighborhoods at all, and an online petition is currently circulating in opposition to her final proposal. As of Thursday afternoon, 228 people had signed the petition, which supports L10 or "any carefully developed plan," limits non-contiguous attendance areas and double-feeds (in which students attend one elementary school, but different middle schools), supports redistricting Wheatfield and Brampton Hills to a school closer than Waterloo, supports a domino shift to use capacity in the west and opposes "the manner in which Dr. Foose usurped the redistricting process."

On Oct. 1, Foose told staff to go "back to the drawing board" with redistricting, and a new plan was put together after months of work from the attendance area committee, and after substantial community input had already been given.

"I know that this plan is not an ideal plan," Foose said last week. "I recognize that. I don't think the process we go about redistricting is ideal, or student-friendly."

The first work session was supposed to be specifically focused on the new elementary school on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge, but conversation eventually strayed to the Ellicott City neighborhoods. During the discussion of the new elementary school, Board Member Cindy Vaillancourt suggested opening the new school as a year-round school, with open enrollment, which could increase the school's capacity by 25 percent.

But school system staff said that planning for such an endeavor would take two years, and the school opens in August 2013. Foose said she supported the idea of year-round education, and it should be considered in future years, but not for the Ducketts Lane elementary school.

She said she didn't want to rule out magnet schools as an option in the future.

The board has three more redistricting work sessions scheduled: Wednesday, Nov. 7, Thursday, Nov. 8 and Tuesday, Nov. 13, all at 7:30 p.m. at the Department of Education in Ellicott City.

A final vote is scheduled for Nov. 15.

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