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Amid criticism, Baltimore County board approves new southwest elementary school districts

In mid-December, the Southwest Boundary Committee, made up of 45 principals, teachers, parents and community members, chose this boundary map, known as Option 3.2b, for redistricting elementary schools. If approved by the Board of Education, it will impact 346 students.
In mid-December, the Southwest Boundary Committee, made up of 45 principals, teachers, parents and community members, chose this boundary map, known as Option 3.2b, for redistricting elementary schools. If approved by the Board of Education, it will impact 346 students.

Baltimore County's Board of Education unanimously approved new district boundaries for elementary schools in the Catonsville and Arbutus areas March 1, though some members admitted they were not happy with the outcome.

Under the new plan, most students currently attending Hillcrest Elementary will remain there. The school's capacity is 666 students, and the estimated enrollment after redistricting is 665, according to a presentation from Cropper GIS, the company in charge of redrawing the map. Superintendent Dallas Dance said there is no planned addition to Hillcrest.

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Meanwhile, to the south, the new Catonsville Elementary will have a capacity of 715 and an estimated enrollment of 579.

"There are seats available at Catonsville Elementary, and more Hillcrest students should fill them," Catonsville resident Karin Wilson said during the public comment portion of the March 1 meeting.

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She asked the board to send the redistricting plan back to the committee. Despite their approval, several board members agreed with Wilson's statement.

"I know how hard they worked," board member Romaine Williams said. "But I'm not happy."

Board member Michael Collins said he felt the parents at Hillcrest influenced the map with the purpose of keeping students at that school, not addressing overcrowding issues.

"Their kids are going to be out of there in three or five years, they don't give a damn what happens to Hillcrest then," Collins said. "The committee didn't do a good job, is the simple truth."

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The school district needs to come up with a better system to redistrict schools, Collins said.

Starting last fall, a redistricting committee of 40 parents, teachers and community members discussed options at a series of meetings. The goal of the process was to alleviate overcrowding.

Board member David Uhlfelder defended the performance of the committee.

"I think they did what they thought was the best for the community at large, and I have to respect their work" Uhlfelder said.

Students in the newly zoned Catonsville, Halethorpe and Westchester elementaries will attend those schools this August. Students in the newly zoned Relay and Arbutus Elementary schools will start there in August 2017.

Students at Catonsville will have a new building, and students at Westchester will have a new addition, both of which are scheduled to be finished by this fall.

An interactive map of the new district is available at www.croppermap.com/bcpssouthwest.

Students in fourth or fifth grade can receive a waiver to stay at their current school, as can any younger siblings they have at that school.

"We as a county have to do a fantastic job at what a transition should be and should look like from individual attention for students to open houses," county school board member Nick Stewart said.

Stewart, who represents the southwest area, said there's a lot left to talk about when it comes to growth in the region. Johnnycake Elementary is overcrowded and didn't get relief through this redistricting process; Dance said the county has to look at a capital project for that area in the next couple of years.

"This has been a back-and-forth conversation, a dialogue," Stewart said. "And it needs to remain one."

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