With several buildings already crowded and an influx of military families on the way, school officials in Harford County are preparing a sweeping redistricting plan involving all 33 of their system's elementary schools.
Some students from suburban areas of the county, particularly in neighborhoods surrounding Bel Air, will probably move to schools in less-developed areas, officials said. Schools in the county's "development envelope," the area designated to keep residential construction in areas with the infrastructure to support it, need immediate relief, officials said. Schools in the more rural northern and eastern areas are below capacity.
"There will probably be student movement in nearly every area," said Teresa D. Kranefeld, schools spokeswoman. "We know this is an emotional activity for parents and students."
Redistricting will relieve crowding and ensure all elementaries are at or below their capacities, Kranefeld said. Harford's high schools and middle schools will not be affected.
Sandra Monaco-Burton, president of the Harford County Council of PTAs, said parents do not want their children in portable classrooms year after year, but they are worried about transferring them from familiar friends and surroundings.
"There is always anxiety and stress about where children will be going," she said. "Nobody wants to move, but because of crowding, we have known for a long time that this was coming."
Nearly 20,000 students are enrolled in Harford's public elementary schools. School enrollments are likely to increase significantly as the nationwide military base realignment, known as BRAC, brings thousands of families to Harford throughout the next year.
"The idea is to balance out the entire county," Kranefeld said. "Crowding can affect instruction and student achievement."
Even Red Pump Elementary, a new school set to open in September on Vale Road north of Bel Air, will not adequately address crowding at nearby Prospect Mill and Emmorton elementaries, she said.
Prospect Mill, off Route 22, south of the county seat, is operating at nearly 140 percent of its capacity, even without its fifth-graders, who have attended class at South Hampton Middle School for the past several years. Emmorton in Abingdon is also seriously crowded with 135 percent capacity. Under the proposed redistricting plan, only five elementaries would be at their full capacity.
The Superintendent's Technical Advisory Committee developed the draft plan, which the school board will review at the end of the month. Members will then gather community feedback at a series of regional meetings before voting on the plan, probably by the end of February.
For now, all the PTAs are scheduling family meetings to share parents' reactions and criticisms of the proposal and answer questions, Monaco-Burton said.
"These meetings will help everyone understand where children will be going next year and why," she said. "It will also help each community formulate any concerns it might have."
North Bend Elementary in Jarrettsville, for example, would expand enrollment from its present 73 percent capacity to 100 percent. Parents there, including Monaco-Burton, are concerned about the impact so many more students will have on the building's well and septic systems. Other families with fourth-grade students want those children to spend fifth grade, their last in an elementary, at the same school.
"There are lots of practical issues and questions about whether there has been adequate research," Monaco-Burton said. "Then, there are lots of emotions about leaving one school community for another."
Residents can review the plan and post comments about the proposal on the schools' website at hcps.org, The redistricting page on the site provides a map with the proposed boundaries for each school, including those for the new elementary. Officials will consider all comments before making a final decision, Kranefeld said.
"The proposed redistricting is not a done deal and nothing is set in stone," said Kranefeld.
The board will vote on a plan by March 1 to give administrators time to inform parents, re-create transportation routes and ensure adequate staffing at each school, Kranefeld said. The new boundaries will not take effect until the start of the school year in the fall.