The Board of Education of Anne Arundel County voted Wednesday to pass a redistricting plan that will redraw boundaries at 48 of the 58 schools in the northern part of the county.
The only difference between the two proposed plans was that the one selected will allow only upcoming seniors to have the option to stay at their original schools, whereas the defeated option would have extended that choice to juniors as well. Option one passed in a five-to-three vote.
“When I started this job Aug 8, 2022, I had no idea that one of the undertakings that I had to engage in would be to come in and focus on redistricting a district of this size,” said Superintendent Mark Bedell before the board voted. “One of the things the board asked of me as superintendent was that they wanted full transparency, context, and they wanted to not surprise the community.”
Due to these requests, the board made an effort to keep the district apprised of its plan. AACPS created an online tool used to show residents the redistricting map and field concerns. Members of the board also went into communities to hear issues voiced by residents and opened the floor to them during meetings.
“There’s no perfect model,” Bedell said. “I think we’ve come as close as we possibly can to a model that we think makes the most sense for the greater good of the school district.”
Bedell proposed a redistricting plan in July. About 6,400 students will be affected.
“I’m currently struggling with the concern for our juniors if we were to go with option one,” school board member for District 4 Melissa Ellis said during the meeting at Annapolis’ Parham Building. “I know how crucial that [junior] year is.”
Ellis said she was worried about the upcoming juniors being able to develop leadership roles and participate in school activities. Those students will also be separated from relationships they’d cultivated with teachers and counselors who could help them with letters of recommendation.
“I’m hoping that if option one passes, there will be an update down the road that will help address those concerns for certain juniors more specifically,” Ellis added.
All the board members voiced their opinions before Michelle Corkadel, the school board member representing District 7, suggested the board use rank-choice voting rather than just a simple yes or no.
“Rank-choice voting has been used in the past, and I believe it ensures a warm resolve,” she said. “I would rather do that than just a single motion.”
The board agreed to this and, after a brief recess, voted five to three to move forward with option one of the plan.
The five members who voted for option one were School Board President Joanna Bache Tobin, Vice President Robert Silkworth, Corkadel, Dana Schallheim of District 5 and Student Member Eric Lin.
Lin said the decision was “between my heart and my mind. My heart is with the juniors, but my head sees option one as having the overall greater good.”
Ellis, Gloria Dent of District 1 and Corine Frank of District 3 preferred option two.
“The facts are that we have schools well over capacity and some schools far below their capacity,” Silkworth said. “This not only impacts the education of so many of our students, but it impacts the ability of our county officials to provide much-needed resources outside of the realm of education. Redistricting is a must, and change can be difficult. Option one allows us to accomplish what we want to accomplish, and the other option may not.”
Phase one of redistricting examines the northern county areas that feed into Chesapeake, Glen Burnie, Meade, North County, Northeast and Old Mill high schools. Boundaries for two new schools, Old Mill West High School and West County Elementary School, both set to be completed next year, also will be drawn as part of the redistricting process.
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The district will then examine its southern schools as phase two.
Overall, the plan leaves only 15 schools with a capacity between 90% and 100% and zero “overutilized” schools, those that have reached 100% capacity or greater.
If the school system hadn’t pursued a redistricting plan, the northern part of the county would have 27 schools that would reach state-rated capacity in the next 10 years, according to AACPS spokesperson Bob Mosier. Seven of the northern county schools would have reached 100% of their capacity, and six would have reached over 110% capacity.