The outcome of the school redistricting in southwest Baltimore County is still up in the air, but one thing is for certain: The public has spoken.
Officials have received thousands of comments, according to Matt Cropper of Cropper GIS, a contractor guiding the process, ranging from walkability and neighborhood continuity concerns to worried parents asking that their parcel stay in the same map.
Cropper will announce the results of an online survey that offered four redistricting options at the Dec. 9 meeting of the Southwest Boundary Committee. That is the final scheduled meeting of the group of parents, principals, teachers and community members tasked with selecting the best option to address overcrowded elementary schools in the district.
According to Cropper GIS, nine of the 11 schools being redistricted are overcrowded. Two schools in the area, Riverview and Baltimore Highlands elementaries, aren't included in the process.
There were four options offered in the survey — all included moving a piece of the Westchester Elementary district north of U.S. Route 40.
The difference among the four remaining options is how the Catonsville Elementary district will expand into the Hillcrest Elementary and Halethorpe Elementary districts. Each option takes a different section of Hillcrest or Halethorpe and adds it to Catonsville.
"No plan is going to be perfect; there are always pros and cons with any boundary plan," Cropper said. "The most important thing is that the committee focuses on the best plan as it relates to the criteria and the objectives, not to react to the emotional side of redistricting. Focus on the data."
The decision made at the last scheduled committee meeting won't be final, however.
"Everything is a draft, even after it leaves the committee's hands," Cropper said. "This is one step in the process."
The next step is approval by the school board, which is on schedule for March.
So far there have been five meetings of the Southwest Boundary Committee, in addition to a public information session. Yet one committee member, Jim Kitchel, the Hillcrest Elementary School Parent Teacher Association president, doesn't have as much to show for it as he would like, he said.
"I would ask anybody involved in the process, do you feel like you can honestly return to your constituency and say, 'I know why we are where we are today?'" Kitchel said. "Because I can't."
The desire for more dialogue between the committee's 44 members and less reliance on a contractor hired to facilitate the process has Kitchel asking for a refined, and in his opinion more manageable, redistricting process.
Kitchel would like to see the number of elementary schools being redistricted reduced from 11 to four for action during the 2016-2017 school year — Catonsville, Hillcrest, Westchester and Westowne. On Nov. 25 he sent a letter to Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance and other school officials outlining his request, also citing concerns for schools north of U.S. 40 and for the students in schools currently scheduled for new buildings.
When asked for comments on redistricting, school spokesperson Mychael Dickerson directed questions to Cropper, who said redistricting at this scale is common.
"I've done them for entire school districts at once," Matt Cropper said.
Kitchel's input is important, he added, but narrowing the scope to four schools is outside the purview of the boundary committee.
It is possible the Dec. 9 meeting won't be the last, Cropper said. An additional meeting could be held to finalize whatever option the committee chooses.
The Dec. 9 meeting of the Southwest Boundary Committee will be held in the cafeteria of Catonsville High School from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
To see maps of the proposed districts, go to www.bcps.org/construction/southwest.