After three weeks of sometimes heated work sessions and public hearings, the Howard County Board of Education approved a redistricting plan Nov. 17 that would move nearly 1,300 elementary students in the southeast region into new schools at the start of the 2012 school year.
Split into 11 votes, one for every school-to-school shift of students, the redistricting passed with only a few dissenting votes.
Under the redistricting plan, students at Laurel Woods, Forest Ridge, Bollman Bridge, Guilford, Atholton, Hammond, Gorman Crossing and Fulton elementary schools would be moved to new schools. Pointers Run and Dayton Oaks elementary schools would be affected as well by the influx of students from the redistricting. All told, 1,289 students would be moved.
Over the course of the public input process, the board heard testimony from almost 100 parents and residents criticizing each of the several redistricting plans proposed, and fielded hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters. Many parents called for postponing the vote — an idea supported by several board members — in an effort to gain more time and information, but their calls were rejected by the board majority.
"If we vote on this and there's an error somewhere, we're going to fix it," said member Frank Aquino, in response to other members' concerns that the final plan was rushed and imperfect.
Board member Allen Dyer voted against every student shift, citing a lack of time for public input on the final plan — especially in regards to Hammond Elementary School — and incomplete information regarding the phased redistricting of fourth-graders impacted by the shift.
"There are some families being affected now that weren't affected in earlier plans," Dyer said. "I've been receiving emails from members of the Hammond community, that their concerns were not adequately addressed, that we skipped over Hammond and did not give them the same amount of attention that we gave to other schools."
Hammond is one of the schools most affected by the redistricting, with 211 students coming in from Atholton and 36 from Guilford, while 199 Hammond students would move to Fulton.
Dyer wasn't the only board member with misgivings. Board member Cindy Vaillancourt voted against the redistricting of Forest Ridge and Bollman Bridge elementary schools, and board member Brian Meshkin abstained from a vote concerning Fulton Elementary School, where his children attend, and against a move of students from Atholton Elementary to Hammond. The latter was a symbolic vote, he said, for Quincy Boateng, an Atholton student who testified before the board twice asking not to be moved from his school during his fifth-grade year.
Elizabeth Boateng, Quincy's mother, said after the vote that the board seemed not to consider the community's opinions on redistricting.
"It's a lot on a kid," Boateng said. "My concern isn't the education; all the schools in Howard County are great schools. I'm concerned that it's disruptive for Quincy and other kids in the same situation, to have to move their final year."
As part of the vote, the board directed staff to look into the possibility of increasing capital projects in the region, especially an addition at Laurel Woods, and the feasibility of phasing in redistricting for fourth-graders affected by the plan, to ensure that they could finish out their elementary careers at their original school. Board Chairwoman Janet Siddiqui directed Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning, to look at the concept of phased redistricting, or grandfathering, of the nearly 200 fourth-graders affected by the plan and report back to the board.
"We have a lot of fourth-graders who will show up, who are new (to the system) and we want to make sure it applies to fourth-graders now," Gallihue said. "You don't want redistricting again until after the entire group impacted by the redistricting has moved through. You buy a little more time if you do a kind of grandfathering for a certain grade."
To view the final redistricting plan and map, go to hcpss.org/boundarylines.