The three state senators of the Howard County delegation to the General Assembly released a joint statement Tuesday about the ongoing redistricting process, stressing they were not endorsing any specific proposal.
State Sens. Katie Fry Hester, Clarence Lam and Guy Guzzone, all Democrats, said they have “an ongoing interest” in the Howard County Public School System’s redistricting process as elected officials, even though they have no role in approving a plan.
Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano presented a proposal in August to move nearly 7,400 students in a comprehensive redistricting process to combat school overcrowding, address inequities in the distribution of students affected by poverty and establish a road map for high school 13.
The Board of Education is scheduled to approve on a final redistricting plan Nov. 21.
The three state senators have been “monitoring” the redistricting process because “a significant amount of annual capital funding for school construction and renovation originates from the state’s budget and because we recognize the importance of addressing the current school enrollment and capacity issues,” according to the statement.
In January, the Howard County delegation held a special work session in part to seek information from the school system about redistricting.
From the work session, it remains the senators’ “firm belief” that “redistricting is the most immediate and efficient method of addressing overcrowded schools and can no longer be delayed because of worsening overcapacity at certain schools and the underutilization of space in other schools within HCPSS,” the statement says.
Additionally, the senators said in the statement they feel there are insufficient funds at the state and local levels to be able to rely on new school construction to alleviate crowding; the final determination of redistricting lies solely with the Howard Board of Education; and delegation members have the “legal authority to sponsor legislation that can compel the [school board] to initiate” redistricting.
The nine delegates of the Howard County delegation were not included in Tuesday’s statement.
Del. Eric Ebersole, a Democrat, said the senators let the delegates know they were releasing a statement.
At this time, “there are delegates working on a positive letter of support,” Ebersole said. He did not elaborate on which delegates or a timeline as to when a letter would be released.
On redistricting, Ebersole said, “If we look at the three original goals [of addressing] capacity, creating socioeconomic balance and high school 13, I’m pleased to see proposals that begin to address these issues and I support those initiatives.”
Del. Warren Miller, a Republican, said he’s “heard a lot of concerns from my constituents about Dr. Martirano’s approach to redistricting.”
Miller said alleviating crowding at schools is the first priority in the redistricting process.
Dels. Vanessa Atterbeary, Jessica Feldmark, Jen Terrasa, Terri Hill, Shane Pendergrass and Courtney Watson, all Democrats, and Del. Trent Kittleman, a Republican, did not respond to requests for comment regarding the redistricting process Tuesday.
The senators urged the “Board of Education to continue proceeding in a thoughtful and deliberative manner in the redistricting process,” according to the statement.
For the past several weeks, the school board has held several public hearings on the matter, with its final hearing Tuesday night. On Thursday, the school board will begin its series of redistricting work sessions.
Hill spoke during the Sept. 17 hearing about the issue of addressing economic inequities.
“One of the reasons we are here is because [of] previous Howard County councils, not school boards, but councils, have allowed our community … to become ghettoized, in many ways where we allow communities to be built that don’t have diversities of incomes and that creates the problem that unfortunately the school system is asked to deal with,” Hill said.
The senators are “pleased” the school board and Martirano “have continued to work in good faith” during the process, they said in the statement.
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They encourage residents to continue making their voices heard in the process in a respectful manner by submitting written testimony to the school board until 4:30 p.m. Nov. 19.