Despite unanimously requesting analysis of the plan a week prior, the Howard County Board of Education on Wednesday rejected another alternative redistricting proposal put forward by Elkridge residents.
The motion to move forward with the Elkridge proposal, or “scenario 5,” failed 5-1, with only board member Christina Delmont-Small voting in favor. Board member Yun Lu was not present for the vote.
Final adoption of school attendance boundaries for next school year is set for Nov. 17.
“No plan is perfect,” argued Delmont-Small, who represents District 1, which includes the Greater Elkridge area. “However, I would appreciate that we as a board continue to look at this particular plan because I think that it may give us some flexibility and a way to populate high school 13.”
Scenario 5 was the latest iteration put forward by Elkridge residents to address the community’s concerns regarding the superintendent’s redistricting proposal, which the board adopted as its preliminary plan Oct. 13. Elkridge parents and officials had repeatedly testified that the plan would lead to difficult commutes down Route 1 and isolate redistricted Elkridge students in the northeast from their peers at the county’s 13th high school in Jessup when it opens next fall.
“Obviously it’s disappointing for the community up here, as well as the community a little bit further south that goes to Oakland Mills, that they won’t have the opportunity to go to a school a couple miles away from where they live,” said Elkridge Hanover resident and HCPSS parent Becki Vivrette, 39, who led the group that created the alternative scenarios.
While keeping most Elkridge residents at Long Reach and Howard high schools, scenario 5 would have additionally sent about 400 Oakland Mills High School students living between Route 175 and Route 100 along Route 1 to high school 13. Vivrette says that community had consistently expressed a desire to attend the new high school given their proximity.
In the board’s preliminary plan, the Oakland Mills Route 1 community stays put, separating an “island” of Elkridge residents to the northeast from the rest of the high school 13 zone.
“In general, more students are probably closer to the [high school 13] building in scenario 5,” acknowledged Matt Sachs of Cooperative Strategies, an education consulting firm assisting the school system with redistricting.
While scenario 5 would have moved about 850 students more than the board’s preliminary plan, according to Sachs, it would have reduced the number of students with 16- to 20-minute drives to high school 13 by more than 300. Additionally, no Oakland Mills student would have had a commute of more than 15 minutes in the Elkridge scenario.
Board opposition to the community-generated plan stemmed from the fact it would have enrollment underutilization at high school 13 and Hammond High School, which is set to complete its own renovation and addition by the end of next year.
For school year 2023-2024, Hammond was projected to have a utilization of 81.5% in scenario 5, compared with 88.9% in the board’s plan; high school 13 was projected at 89.5% in scenario 5 and 96% in the board plan. Those disparities, with slight fluctuations, were projected to remain for the next decade.
“I’m always about the capacity utilization,” said board Chair Vicky Cutroneo. “That’s what should drive boundary changes and decisions. I think that’s the number one thing and that’s where my concern lies with scenario 5.”
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Failing to use available seats, such as those at Hammond and high school 13, could jeopardize state funding for new capital projects, explained Daniel Lubeley, director of capital planning and construction.
“We have more capacity in the southeast and we have need in the northeast,” Delmont-Small said. “We can’t move the [new high] school. It’d be nice, but we can’t. So we are handcuffed to having to deal with what we have here.”
With the decision made to proceed with the board’s preliminary plan, Vivrette says her main concern is ensuring Elkridge students assigned to the new school have equitable transportation and feel connected to their peers in Jessup.
“There’s a lot of work to be done going ahead,” she said. “That’s not just for the students transitioning to the school in August, it’s for the whole community.”
A final redistricting work session, where exemptions for rising 10th graders, eighth graders and several other categories will be decided, will take place Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. The public may attend work sessions in person or via livestream but cannot participate in them.
The board delayed voting on exemptions Wednesday after debating the use of the word “exempt” in school policy and whether exempting a group of students from redistricting would still allow individuals from that category to opt in to their redistricted school.
Superintendent Michael Martirano asked for the board to hold its motions until the next work session so he and HCPSS legal counsel could review how the word previously has been applied.