Balancing enrollment. Boundary review. Redistricting. Whatever you want to call it, it’s never an enjoyable process. But it is a reality that school systems in Maryland encounter every so often as growth occurs in their communities.
From our view, Harford County Public Schools is trying to get it right as best they can, even if the parents and students affected by it don’t see it that way.
County Councilman Robert Wagner recently said the school system shouldn’t be this far into the redistricting process if no suggestion seems to work, but admitted there is no simple solution to rebalancing enrollment.
He’s halfway right. Redistricting might be the toughest thing a school superintendent and board of education have to do. Believe it or not, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When parents are passionate about where their children attend school, that is because of the schools themselves and relationships made there, often a positive reflection of the community and the school system.
It’s difficult to part with, especially when redistricting can have long-time friends attending different schools or if you moved to development specifically because of the school district.
But not redistricting and balancing enrollment has negative consequences too. Some schools will get overcrowded and if school boards haven’t already done their best to balance enrollment within existing buildings, the state won’t fund new construction projects to alleviate that overcrowding. And it would be fiscally irresponsible for county government to fund build a school entirely on local taxpayer dollars.
Inevitably, there will never be a solution to redistricting that works for everyone, because everyone has different expectations of the “right” way to do things. What’s “right” for one person doesn’t take into account what makes sense to another.
With that said, there are definitely points that we agree on.
Schools should largely try to keep bus rides as short as possible. And as Wagner noted, generally, you shouldn’t be busing students past schools that are closer to their home. Keeping neighborhoods intact should also be a goal whenever possible and feeder patterns should be clean.
The good news is, there is still plenty of time for public to weigh in. The superintendent will be conducting meetings with the public before he presents his recommendations to the Board of Education, likely sometime in October. After that, the school board will also set up times to hear feedback before making a decision in February.
Already, after a pair of sessions with elementary and secondary school parents, the advisory team has made changes to the boundary maps to try to address concerns. It’s good that the school system has been open to criticisms of the initial maps and shown a willingness to adjust.
It’s also important to remember, if the last year and a half has taught us anything, that children are resilient. Granted, each is going to have a different level of tolerance for change, but they will survive. Those who change schools will have the opportunity to meet new friends and teachers, and perhaps experience new things.
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The final maps will leave some families frustrated. It’s understandable but also unavoidable. Redistricting is a necessary evil. We encourage the school system to keep listening, keep adjusting, and for parents to be patient and understanding of why the process needs to occur.