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Redistricting in future for Catonsville elementary schools

Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance speaks to a group of about 50 parents, residents, school staff and school officials during a community input meeting held Tuesday, Sept. 30 at Catonsville High School.
Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance speaks to a group of about 50 parents, residents, school staff and school officials during a community input meeting held Tuesday, Sept. 30 at Catonsville High School.(Staff photo by Lauren Loricchio, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Redistricting of southwest Baltimore County elementary schools will soon be underway as construction projects will add room for approximately 1,000 additional students to address overcrowding in the area.

At a community meeting Tuesday night in the cafeteria of Catonsville High School, residents of southwest Baltimore County met with Baltimore County public school officials to discuss the school facilities in their community.

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A boundary change process is expected to begin fall 2015 and be completed by April 2016 for schools in the area, said Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent Dallas Dance.

"In the next five years, we're going to replace schools, particularly in this area. We're not looking at any redistricting for middle schools or high schools — it will only be for elementary," Dance said.

Three new 700-seat schools will be built in the area to replace the current Catonsville Elementary, Westowne Elementary and Relay Elementary, and a 200-seat addition will be added to Westchester Elementary. Construction of those schools is expected to be complete Aug. 2016.

Lansdowne Elementary is also expected to be replaced with a 700-seat elementary school, although no timeline for the project has been released by BCPS yet. That school will provide room for an additional 120 students, Dance said.

Those changes will require a boundary change process, a concern voiced by parents at the meeting.

Next year, a boundary change committee will be established that will be headed by the BCPS Office of Strategic Planning, which determines enrollment projections, Dance said.

Every school that will be impacted by the construction of new schools will be represented by four people — a parent, community member, principal and teacher — who will offer recommendations and provide feedback, Dance said.

"At the end of the day, in the redistricting process, not everyone will be happy. But at the end of the day, everyone will be heard," Dance said.

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Some of the parents at Tuesday evening's session said they would like school feeder patterns reassessed.

Monica Simonsen, a parent of two children at Hillcrest in Catonsville who will attend Arbutus Middle, said, "A lot of the anxiety over the elementary schools has to do with the feeder situation into the middle schools."

Students from two Catonsville schools are divided between Catonsville and Arbutus middle schools. Those from Hillcrest, Westchester and Westowne go to Catonsville Middle. Those at Hillcrest, Westowne, Catonsville, Arbutus, Relay and Halethorpe feed into Arbutus Middle.

Some parents suggested "100 percent feeder schools".

Erica Mah, who serves as vice president of the PTA at Hillcrest Elementary, said children from an elementary school should stay together when they go to middle school, rather than being sent to different schools.

"Middle school is hard enough," she said.

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Other concerns expressed during the Tuesday meeting were: a lack of air-conditioning, a lack of wireless Internet (Wi-Fi), safety and security, lack of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible buildings and class sizes becoming too large.

The new Catonsville, Relay, Westowne and Lansdowne elementary schools will be air-conditioned..

"When we look at Schools for the Future and the overall plan, once implemented, over 90 percent of the schools will be air-conditioned, particularly elementary and all middle schools," Dance said.

Dance said the school system has a plan to equip all schools in the county with Wi-Fi by the end of the school year.

"It's a $20 million investment over a two-year period that our County Council helped us with," Dance said.

After the meeting, parents said they would like to see BCPS will take their feedback into consideration when determining a facilities plan for the area.

Simonsen said she felt that the county didn't consider community input enough when determining a plan for the new Catonsville Elementary School building.

"So that's why I think you didn't have as big of a turnout tonight," Simonsen said.

Jim Kitchel, president of the Hillcrest PTA, expressed optimism that BCPS will listen to parents and residents when improving facilities moving forward.

"We want to see a value for our involvement and we want it to be mutually beneficial so that our engagement will help them," Kitchel said.

The meeting was held by Dance and other officials to gain feedback from stakeholders for their Schools for Our Future plan to improve facilities countywide as enrollment numbers grow.

It was the first of five meetings to be held across the county. Others are scheduled throughout October for Essex, Perry Hall, Towson and Owings Mills.

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