Only a handful of the nearly 110 Howard County residents signed up to testify on the County Council’s resolution calling on the school system to “desegregate” its schools by socioeconomic factors got to speak during a hearing Wednesday night.

Fewer than 10 Howard residents testified Wednesday, a number that was held down because of time constraints, as nearly 75 others gave testimony on several other County Council bills at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. Remaining residents testifying on the resolution will speak before the council Sept. 26 beginning at 3:30 p.m.

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Carl Manganillo, of Ellicott City, disagrees with the resolution as written.

“The divisive language used in this resolution is extremely insulting to me and my biracial family. I consider Howard County extremely diverse,” Manganillo said during the hearing.

He said the current language, referencing slavery and other “racial and politically charged language,” plays on people’s emotions and is “a tactic to divert from the facts.”

Manganillo would be in agreement with a “more thoughtful document” that eliminates what he says is divisive, politically charged and manipulative language and instead works “towards a truly shared definition of equity.”

Council members Christiana Mercer Rigby, Opel Jones and Deb Jung released a joint news release in August announcing the pending resolution asking for the school system to develop a plan to desegregate its schools on the heels of the redistricting process. The resolution was introduced Sept. 3.

“Currently school district boundaries in Howard County are drawn in a manner that concentrate students participating in the Free and Reduced Meals program [FARMS] into certain elementary, middle, and high schools,” the release said.

In 2018, more than 12,000 of the school system’s 56,000 students were enrolled in FARMs, according to Maryland State Department of Education data.

“We have a problem of poverty concentration in Howard County,” Jung said Wednesday night.

The news release was sent out a week before Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano presented his redistricting recommendations to the school board. Martirano and most of the school board members were blindsided by the release, according to emails obtained by the Howard County Times through a Maryland Public Information Act request.

Martirano’s redistricting proposal looks to move nearly 7,400 students across all grade levels for the 2020-21 academic year. His proposal has “three guiding tenets”: to combat school overcrowding, address inequities in the distribution of students affected by poverty, and establish a road map for the eventual opening of the county’s 13th high school.

In prepared remarks that will be given next week, the Howard County Citizens Association said the county can attribute its “primary source of segregation … to the long history of developer influence,” addressing affordable housing in the county.

There are 610 moderate-income housing units, apartments and townhouses that are rented and 287 units that are owned, in Columbia, Elkridge, Laurel, Jessup and Savage, according to Kelly Cimino, director of housing and community development.

In certain areas, developers are required to provide at least 10% of their units at moderate-income prices, as the requirement was added to the county code in 1996.

However, in some areas, developers can pay a fee instead of providing affordable housing. A fee-in-lieu can be paid for in certain districts, as approved by the County Council in 2013. The fee is currently $2.65 per square foot.

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“For decades, developer influence of Howard County’s zoning and land-use laws have led to the concentration of poverty in certain regions of the county,” according to HCCA’s remarks.

These regions, according to the HCCA, include Turf Valley, Maple Lawn, River Hill and Downtown Columbia, where there are exemptions or do not require any affordable housing.

“The cumulative effect of these actions has led to the status quo — the concentration of lower income households in some areas and the disparate statistics of poverty in certain schools,” the remarks said.

Daniel Newberger, a Columbia resident, urged the council to pass the resolution, saying it “is a noble first step.”

“The research and evidence is clear, schools that socially and economically and racially integrated produce better outcomes for all children,” he said.

Newberger said the council “holds the true power” to improve educational equity over the school board, citing the potential use of the county’s affordable housing regulations, zoning codes and the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

“These are the tools for creating a more just and equitable Howard County. Use them,” Newberger said.

The school board did not testify at Wednesday’s hearing and has not made any public statements about the resolution. The school board is reviewing Martirano’s recommendations and is scheduled to vote on a plan in November.

“We have to trust that the school board is going to do the right thing in this [redistricting] process,” Jung said.

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