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After nine months of deliberating redistricting strategies for Howard County schools, the School Board decided Thursday to significantly scale back redistricting at the elementary and middle school levels and halt high school redistricting in preparation for planned school construction, expected to be completed in five to six years.

Chairwoman Cindy Vaillancourt led the board’s preliminary vote on redistricting during the board’s Nov. 14 meeting. The board formally adopted the plan on Thursday, Nov. 16.

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In its decision, the board will move less than 1,000 elementary students to fill Elementary School 42 – opening next fall – and accommodate the number of elementary students feeding into middle schools. The shift includes some students at Manor Woods Elementary who will move to the nearby and underutilized West Friendship and Waverly elementaries to alleviate overcrowding at Manor Woods.

The decision differs from Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano’s recommendation in October to send some of Manor Woods’ students to Bushy Park, a proposal that raised concerns from the Manor Woods community. Vaillancourt said the board’s move will keep students closer to the school’s communities and in the same feeder schools: Mount View Middle and Marriotts Ridge High.

“We have figured out a way to keep everybody in their quadrant, relieve the egregious overcrowding and allow for growth that we expect in those areas,” Vaillancourt said. “It will provide some breathing room.”

The board’s decision to scale back elementary school redistricting comes after Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced Tuesday the county plans to purchase a 12-acre site in Turf Valley for the school system’s 43rd elementary school, expected to open in 2023. When Elementary School 43 opens, Vaillancourt said Tuesday, it will open at capacity with students from Manor Woods, Waverly and West Friendship.

“We are going to spread them out until then,” she said. “We think this has been consistent with what the community has been saying, which is don’t move people unless you need to and don’t disrupt communities unless you are making long-term moves that will provide long-term stability.”

There will be minimal middle school redistricting in 2018, Vaillancourt said, including “small feed repairs” at Mayfield Woods and Thomas Viaduct Middle schools. Some students will be moved from Harper’s Choice to Wilde Lake Middle and Lime Kiln to Clarksville Middle to alleviate overcrowding.

The board agreed that rising eighth-graders can stay at their respective schools if they provide their own transportation.

Vaillancourt said the board will continue assessing future middle school redistricting possibilities as the opening of High School 13 nears in 2022.

Any changes will depend on the newest high school’s location, which the board will finalize in mid-December.

A preliminary vote among the board also favored no high school redistricting until at least 2022, and addressed current overcrowding with the JumpStart initiative mentioned in Martirano’s proposal. Vaillancourt said the early college programs would open to students with trailing siblings and draw them away from the overcrowded Long Reach, Centennial and Howard High schools to Oakland Mills or River Hill High.

The initiative allows students to earn up to two years of college credits at Howard Community College while paying half the tuition. JumpStart is currently offered and would expand at Oakland Mills and be introduced at River Hill.

Depending on how many students sign up, Vaillancourt said the board will determine whether to also allow general open enrollment at Oakland Mills or River Hill. Open enrollment will also be considered for Long Reach, Centennial and Howard High students to attend Glenelg, Marriotts Ridge or Wilde Lake High in “limited numbers.”

The board chairwoman said the school system’s preliminary analysis of the JumpStart enrollment suggests there will be “a pretty good dent in the overcrowding” next year.

“In any event, high schools will be better, crowding-wise, next year. It may not be cured, but it will be better,” Vaillancourt said. “We are trying to provide community stability while we have these other pieces that are out there and going to be coming, like High School 13. We don’t want to make moves that will have to be undone.”

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School officials are developing a new school locator and final attendance area maps for the 2018-2019 school year, which will be available at hcpss.org on Nov. 30.

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