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Harford schools redistricting maps updated based on public feedback, new data from capital project planning

Kate Doiron, of the consulting firm working with Harford County Public Schools on the system’s balancing enrollment plans, issued what she called a “spoiler alert” while discussing updates with members of the Board of Education on Monday.

Certain neighborhoods in Bel Air South and Abingdon, where children had been slated to be redistricted from their current elementary schools to schools in adjacent attendance areas, will remain in their existing attendance areas, “based on the feedback we got from everyone,” according to Doiron, of FLO Analytics.

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A map book showing the most recent changes to elementary attendance areas in the Center South region of the county is available on HCPS’ balancing enrollment web page. That updated map is based on discussions during a May 6 meeting of the HCPS advisory team working with FLO and their subcontractor, Bloom Planning, to develop recommended district-wide changes to elementary, middle and high school attendance areas for submission to Superintendent Sean Bulson.

Bulson will, following more public feedback, submit his recommendation to the school board, which is slated to vote on the final plan in February, and it will take effect in the 2022-23 school year.

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Families whose children attend Emmorton, Homestead-Wakefield and Ring Factory Elementary and would be shifted from one school to another in that trio, have been petitioning Board of Education members, as well as the Harford County Council, in recent weeks to leave their children in their current schools.

“You just made my evening,” school board member Carol Mueller, who represents the Bel Air area in District C, told Doiron. “I am so excited to hear that — you don’t even know how happy that makes me.”

Mueller also expressed excitement for the families in her district, whom she said are “very invested” in their neighborhood schools. She noted that families who had been slated to go from Homestead-Wakefield to Ring Factory, and vice versa, had “one of the best problems in the world,” moving from “one good school to another good school.”

Ring Factory families, especially those who live in neighborhoods such as Glenwood that are across Route 924 from the school, objected to the plans, though, as it would mean their children would have to get on a bus rather than walk to school. They also noted that Ring Factory has been part of the fabric of their community since it opened in 1990. Those families will be able to remain in their neighborhood school, as the May 6 map shows children who were going to shift from there to Homestead-Wakefield will stay put.

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Some of those families, as well as families from Havre de Grace Elementary School who are against initial plans to send their children outside of town to Roye-Williams Elementary, took part in a rally outside HCPS headquarters in downtown Bel Air April 26. Many Havre de Grace families have stressed that they want children who currently attend Havre de Grace and Meadowvale Elementary — both in city limits — to be able to attend the new $80 million Havre de Grace Middle/High School that opened this year.

“We appreciate all the time and consideration you are giving to this process,” Renee Stratton, president of the Havre de Grace Elementary PTA, told officials during the public comment of the school board meeting Monday.

“We simply want to see Havre de Grace kids stay in Havre de Grace city schools.”

Adjustments also have been made to the proposed change area for Havre de Grace Elementary, South East-3, based on a map book released after an April 28 advisory team meeting. The SE-3 area has been split into smaller sections, based on neighborhoods such as Bulle Rock and Scenic Manor, as well as future development in those areas.

The map does not indicate if those children will remain at Havre de Grace Elementary, although some children such as those who live in Greenway Farms would still go to Roye-Williams based on transportation options. Some children also are slated to move from Meadowvale to Darlington Elementary School to increase enrollment at Darlington, according to the map.

Families from the Monmouth Meadows community in Abingdon, who are against plans to shift some children from their neighborhood school of Emmorton Elementary to Abingdon Elementary, held a rally outside the A.A. Roberty Building Monday prior to the board meeting; about 40 people attended, according to an organizer.

Emmorton was at 99% of its capacity as of the Sept. 30, 2020 enrollment count, and it is projected to exceed 100% of its capacity in the coming years. Abingdon Elementary is at 75% of its capacity as of this year — officials are working to ease overcrowding in schools where there has been significant residential development and boost the capacity of under-utilized schools through balancing enrollment.

“The Monmouth Meadows community is so excited and happy that the Board of Education seriously listened to our concerns and that the Advisory Team was able to identify a workable solution that will reduce stress on Emmorton Elementary while keeping our children at the school,” resident Brett Schrader said Tuesday.

Resident Josh Ryan also expressed happiness about the change, which leaves all Monmouth Meadows children at Emmorton rather than splitting them between two schools.

“I am thankful to see that [planners] are carefully considering feedback from the community,” he said Tuesday.

Ryan’s niece, Emilyn, expressed her concerns during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting. She attended Emmorton and is currently a student at Bel Air Middle School; her twin brothers attend Emmorton, and she wants her siblings to be able to remain there. Emilyn noted that her family moved to Monmouth Meadows specifically for the local schools.

“We moved here on purpose just for the school and I’m really glad we did,” she said. “I have friends all over the neighborhood — I really love the teachers I had at Emmorton.”

Families in Monmouth Meadows will remain engaged with the balancing enrollment process, as proposed changes for middle and high school boundaries are slated to be released in the coming weeks, and a community education forum on those changes is scheduled for June 2.

“We look forward to reviewing the proposed boundary changes in the upcoming middle school/high school plan and hope that our community will remain in the Bel Air school system,” Schrader said.

Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School
Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The public comment portion lasted for nearly two hours, and school board members heard from a number of families in the Cedarday community near Bel Air. Those families were against having their children move from Homestead-Wakefield to Ring Factory — the most recent map shows children in the Center South 7 section remaining at Homestead-Wakefield.

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School system officials are planning the construction of a new building that would replace the aging three facilities at Homestead-Wakefield. Families there also have been petitioning the school board for a replacement school for a number of years.

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The Harford school system contracted with FLO Analytics to develop a scope study for replacing Homestead-Wakefield. That scope study was approved by the state, and educational specification documents for the new building’s uses were completed about two weeks ago, according to Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations.

Those specifications were included in the balancing enrollment planning, and it helped planners make updates to proposed changes to Homestead-Wakefield attendance areas.

“We were able to make some more edits and send some more students back to the school that they go to currently, which is always good,” Doiron said.

Brown noted that “there are a number of things taking place at the same time” in the balancing enrollment process, “and as things develop and progress, we’ll be making modifications and adjustments based on new data.”

He emphasized that balancing enrollment is part of a larger plan to improve school capacity in light of new development in Harford County in recent years. Those plans could include building new schools — he cited an elementary school proposed for the Campus Hills area along Schucks Road east of Bel Air, a proposal that had been put on hold because of the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.

“The first phase is to balance enrollment, the second phase is to go back and engage our fiscal authorities at the local and state levels, to talk about the residential development within our community and possibly the need for additional construction,” Brown said.

He noted that “given how much time it takes to plan and build a new school, we’re going to come out with some additional information that’s going to influence our capital program, to include possibly new construction and things of that sort.”

Board member Joyce Herold thanked Brown for “mentioning the work that needs to happen in terms of helping us obtain the funds, the money necessary to support education in our district.” She also noted how some people who spoke to the board Monday mentioned that they have been through redistricting several times over the years.

“We’re in a cycle, and so we need to do the work in order to get out of that cycle,” Herold said.

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