Among the members of a committee that met Sept. 30 to consider changes to boundaries of 11 elementary schools in the southwest portion of Baltimore County were, from left, Jane Allen, representing the Relay Elementary community, Kelvin Carney, from the Catonsville Elementary community, Samantha Lewandowski, also from Catonsville, Whitney Plunkett, of Edmondson Heights Elementary, and Bre Fortkamp, from Johnnycake Elementary.
Among the members of a committee that met Sept. 30 to consider changes to boundaries of 11 elementary schools in the southwest portion of Baltimore County were, from left, Jane Allen, representing the Relay Elementary community, Kelvin Carney, from the Catonsville Elementary community, Samantha Lewandowski, also from Catonsville, Whitney Plunkett, of Edmondson Heights Elementary, and Bre Fortkamp, from Johnnycake Elementary. (Staff photo by Heather Norris)

The committee of parents, school faculty and community members charged with redrawing the boundaries of 11 elementary schools in southwest Baltimore County met for the second time Wednesday night.

At the meeting, which was held at in Catonsville High School's cafeteria, the group addressed a three possible boundary scenarios laid out for the committee by Matt Cropper, of Cropper GIS, the company working with Baltimore County Public Schools to moderate the rezoning process.

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The rezoning is part of the county school system's effort to address overcrowding at many southwest area elementary schools. As a whole, the southwest area's elementary schools are currently operating at 112 percent their state-designated capacity, according to data provided to the committee by Cropper.

To help alleviate the crowding, the county will provide over the course of the next two years new, larger capacity buildings for Westowne, Relay and Catonsville elementary schools and Westchester Elementary School will receive a 200-seat addition.

The committee includes approximately 50 faculty, parents and community representatives from each school.

Following up on their request during the first committee meeting, held on Sept. 16, each member was provided with a series of maps Wednesday night to use as a reference through the boundary change process. The maps showed information such as the locations of property zoned for industrial and commercial use, along with developments that have already received Planned Unit Development (PUD) approval from the Baltimore County Council. sights.

"It's sort of a puzzle and you're grouping these pieces together and creating options," Cropper said.

After a review of the committee's mission and guidelines, the group was given the chance to provide feedback on the starter boundary maps provided by Cropper. Based on factors such as neighborhood boundaries, diversity, busing patterns and the percentage of students at each school who rely on free and reduced meals (FARMS), Cropper offered the group three possible boundary maps, each of which would adjust the schools' capacity levels to a goal capacity of about 94 percent.

Immediately, the committee got the work pointing out issues and strengths on the maps.

Although the goal of the process is to bring all of the schools' enrollment totals in line with their capacities, representatives from two schools, Johnnycake and Lansdowne Elementary School, said they had reservations about any decreases to their student body.

One committee member said she worried the transfer of some students out of the school would mean Johnnycake would be less equipped to handle problems, like home issues and personal crises, if a decrease in the student body resulted in decreased staff at the school.

Another committee member said there is a concern that a reduction in Lansdowne Elementary's overcrowding could mean the school does not get the new building that is currently awaiting approval.

Committee members also raised concerns over any plans that might require students to cross the Baltimore National Pike in order to travel between school and home. In addition to U.S. 40's role as a clear border between different neighborhoods, sending children who live south of Baltimore National Pike to a school north of the road, or vice versa, could mean major traffic problems, they said.

Other committee members highlighted a proposal included in some of the proposed maps that would shift the community living in the Alan Drive neighborhood from Halethorpe Elementary to Catonsville Elementary.

That neighborhood, noted Lori Phelps, principal of Woodbridge Elementary, includes a pocket of Burmese immigrants with whom Halethorpe Elementary staff has worked with in recent years to accommodate and serve.

"If that population gets moved to Catonsville, they will have to start over," Phelps said.

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Furthermore, she added, the special exception that students in fourth and fifth grades and their siblings could use to stay in their current schools after the boundary changes take affect would not benefit this population. The school system has said that is would not be responsible for providing transportation for students who apply for the exception, and many of the families living in the Burmese community do not have cars, Phelps said.

Phelps said after the meeting that she felt the gathering, which lasted two hours, was productive.

"I think that it was an excellent process," she said, noting that the mix of backgrounds and priorities of the committee members ensures that every school and every community has a voice in the process.

Although she works in Catonsville, it was a member of the Halethorpe community that told her about Halethorpe's Burmese community, she said.

Although she said she expects the final maps to look a lot different front of the maps the group addressed Wednesday, the meeting, Phelps said, "was a great starting place."

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