Meeting observers inspect some of the map options being assessed by the boundary change committee.
Meeting observers inspect some of the map options being assessed by the boundary change committee. (Heather Norris)

Hillcrest Elementary School dads TJ Bonner and Matt Doyle knew in the summer that the boundaries for their local school districts could be redrawn.

The Catonsville parents had followed the situation casually, but both thought they had no real cause for concern.

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Then, two weeks ago, both men saw maps on the school website that showed potential school boundaries that have redistricted their families out of the zone for the school on Frederick Road that is considered by area residents to be among the best for their young children.

"I started educating myself," Bonner said, adding that he was not happy with the prospect of seeing his six-year-old sent to a different school.

"I paid the price for the school districts I'm in now," he said.

On Wednesday evening, Bonner and Doyle, along with more than 20 other parents, school district and community observers, showed up for the fourth meeting of the Southwest Boundary Committee at Catonsville High School.

The meeting, the first past the halfway point in a six-meeting process, meant the committee is one step closer to selecting new boundaries for 11 of the 13 elementary schools in the Catonsville and Arbutus areas.

The group of about 40 parents, school faculty and community members has until Feb. 2 to submit a proposal to the Baltimore County Board of Education that would reshuffle students at 11 of the area's schools to alleviate overcrowding.

The goal is to have two or three options ready for a public comment meeting scheduled for Nov. 18, said Matt Cropper, of Cropper GIS, the company working with Baltimore County Public Schools to moderate the rezoning process.

The Oct. 28 session was open for public observation, but not participation or comment.

The committee has been gathering every other Wednesday for hour-and-a-half-long meetings since Sept. 16.

On Oct. 14, the group was presented with five map options that helped spread the enrollment at many of the schools, taking advantage of construction at four schools — Relay, Westowne, Catonsville and Westchester — that will add student capacity.

But after concerns were raised by some committee members that the options did not do enough to help reduce the overcrowding in the schools north of the Baltimore National Pike, Cropper presented the group with an additional two maps on Oct. 28 that made more changes to the boundaries of the schools in the northernmost portions of Catonsville.

After studying the new options, committee members were asked to evaluate each of the seven maps to determine which option best suits each school.

The process, which was scheduled to take about 10 to 15 minutes, took more than a half hour, but Cropper said the results, when tallied, will help him create new hybrid maps for the next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 11.

Cropper reiterated to the group, as he has at every meeting prior, that the maps the group is working with at this time are simply drafts.

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But the votes showed that some options were more acceptable to more committee members than other options.

Votes showed that a large majority of committee members thought that boundaries that keep the Woodbridge Elementary School zone as-is work best for that school on the northern side of Baltimore National Pike.

For Westowne Elementary, a school only a short distance from Baltimore National Pike, most committee members said they thought that adding the Dunmore neighborhood to the school's zone worked best.

For Westchester Elementary in the western part of Catonsville, the votes showed committee members split between one option that would expand the school's boundaries to include neighborhoods directly south of the school currently zoned for Hillcrest Elementary and another that would expand the school's reach both south of the school and to the north of Baltimore National Pike. That option would add neighborhoods currently zoned for Woodbridge and Johnnycake, near North Rolling Road.

Southwest area school boundary group meets for third time

In the third meeting of the Southwest Boundary Committee, held at Catonsville High School on Wednesday night, the group discussed more options for future changes to the region's elementary school boundaries as they were presented with five new maps to consider.

For Relay Elementary, committee members said they believed options that incorporate some of the neighborhoods east of Washington Boulevard work best.

At Lansdowne Elementary, where the community is expecting a new school in the future and has expressed concerns at previous meetings about a possible loss of student enrollment that could delay the construction of the new building, and Edmondson Heights Elementary, where overcrowding is not an issue, according to data from last school year, all of the seven options reflected the same boundaries.

For Arbutus, Catonsville, Hillcrest, Johnnycake and Halethorpe elementary schools, committee members' votes indicated mixed feelings on which option best served the school.

At the end of the session, when asked if anyone had any questions or comments, Johnnycake teacher Cara Detwiler said she was still worried that none of the options really benefited students at schools north of Baltimore National Pike.

While drawing kids from neighborhoods north of the major thoroughfare south to schools like Westchester and Catonsville may increase diversity in the demographics at those schools, she said, nothing is being done to make the schools to the north more diverse. At Johnnycake, Edmondson Heights and Woodbridge, she noted, the student body remains about 90-percent minority in every option presented to the committee.

"It just feels like there's this opportunity here to get away from segregation," she said. "Nothing really feels different for us on the north side."

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Diversifying schools can be difficult when neighborhoods surrounding those schools lack diversity, Cropper said in response.

While achieving a diverse student body is a goal, he added, one goal cannot override the other goals the committee has, like making sure the new boundaries do not require students to travel so far to school that it becomes a burden.

But, he said, as he makes the maps for the next committee session he will consider whether he can make another map option that gives demographics more weight.

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