School redistricting could affect 2,800 elementary students

Early numbers indicate that nearly 3,000 elementary school students in Howard County may need to be redistricted to new schools for the 2013 school year.

According to the school system's annual Feasibility Study — which examines planned construction projects and the need for school redistricting, and was presented to the Board of Education June 14 — 2,866 students may have to be moved among 19 schools to ease overcrowding in the northeast region, and to fill a new elementary school on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge.

The unusually large number of students that could be redistricted surprised some board members.

"The 2,866 students, that kind of made me cringe," board Vice Chairman Frank Aquino said.

Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning, admitted that the number is unusually high — more than twice the number of students redistricted for the 2012-2013 school year, for example.

But he said the plan addressed three major goals. "This opens the new elementary school, balances capacity and relieves Veterans Elementary," Gallihue said.

Students from Bellows Spring, Elkridge, Rockburn and Waterloo elementary schools would fill the Ducketts Lane school — 545 students in the 600-seat building, set to open its doors in a little more than a year.

Rockburn is not overcrowded, Gallihue said, but is within the proposed Ducketts Lane attending area, and must be included in the plans.

The study also offered extremely preliminary figures for middle school redistricting in 2014 and high school redistricting in 2016.

In 2014, 2,117 students may need to be redistricted, providing relief for overcrowding at Mayfield Woods and Patuxent Valley middle schools. Nearly 600 of those students would fill a new middle school, part of the Oxford Square development, set to open that year.

The northeast region isn't the only focus of the study, Gallihue said. Other goals include relieving over-crowding in East Columbia schools — assisted by additions at Phelps Luck, Northfield, Stevens Forest and Thunder Hill elementary schools, as well as by redistricting — and relieving Veterans Elementary.

Gallihue said that by opening up West Friendship Elementary school to receive students, Veterans, although several districts away, could be relieved through a domino effect. Veterans' students could be moved to Hollifield Station and St. John's Lane elementary schools; St. John's Lane students could be moved to Waverly Elementary, and Waverly students could be moved to West Friendship.

The plan addressing overcrowding in East Columbia, in which students are shifted from Phelps Luck to Jeffers Hills and Thunder Hill elementary schools, and from Talbott Springs to Stevens Forest, does not include Swansfield Elementary. Swansfield is the only over-capacity elementary school not immediately addressed by redistricting or capital projects.

Ken Roey, director of facilities planning and management, said Swansfield will be addressed in the next two or three years, and Gallihue said the school's enrollment is lower than projected. Furthermore, Gallihue said, significant planning is coming in the form of the new Columbia Town Center plans — which include a new school — and the school system is already working with the Department of Planning and Zoning on a school analysis.

Only the start

The presentation of the study marks the start of a long redistricting process, and the preliminary numbers presented to the board are far from final.

"This is a draft document," board Chairwoman Sandra French reminded the public. "These are only ideas; these are not things carved in stone."

The board authorized the convening of an Attendance Area Planning Committee, which will meet throughout the summer to finalize a redistricting plan to present to the board in October.

Board members asked staff to consider West Columbia in redistricting proposals as well, and to look at under-capacity schools like Clarksville Elementary.

The proposal to convene the committee was opposed by board members Brian Meshkin and Allen Dyer.

Dyer suggested postponing the vote until Renee Foose, Howard's new superintendent, comes on board next month, but that suggestion was rejected.

"I'm interested in her being more involved in this process from the get-go," he said. "As has been noted, this is the beginning of the process, and I'm concerned about rushing it."

But the board rejected Dyer's suggestion. French said Foose had been "intimately involved" with all central office staff, and has given direction on various topics and issues facing the school system. Dyer's concerns, she said, have been addressed.

Both Dyer and Meshkin also expressed concerns about fundamental elements of the redistricting and capital projects processes.

"I'm concerned that we're are making decisions, that we're voting on and setting the stage for this process, based on projections from September 2011," Meshkin said.

Meshkin had also voiced concerns on the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance chart, passed by the board last month, which is based on enrollment projections from 2010.

For more information about the 2012 Feasibility Study, and attendance areas, visit

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