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With the Howard County Public School System planning the largest redistricting in its history, many parents are questioning how long the recommended solutions will work before redistricting needs to happen again.

Two months into the six-month redistricting discussion, the volunteer-based Attendance Area Committee continues to gather public input to review redistricting recommendations for implementation in the 2018-19 school year. While still early in the process, with no official redistricting plans in place, parents remain uncertain as they wait to learn what school their children will attend in 2018, while residential developments continue popping up throughout the county.

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Jim Reynolds, an Elkridge resident since 2006, said he understands that redistricting is necessary over time but is confused as to why it appears more frequently in Howard County. Reynolds' two children will be entering the second and fourth grades this fall at Rockburn Elementary.

Having looked at the Office of School Planning's 2017 feasibility study, Reynolds said his children would not be affected by the 2018-19 redistricting until they reach high school.

"The bigger issue is not that they're being redistricted specifically to a different high school, but it's that this has kind of become the norm in Howard County, that we just redistrict every couple of years," he said.

The 2017 feasibility study was unveiled at a June Board of Education meeting and provides a comprehensive analysis of current and projected student populations at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

The most recent redistricting in Howard County occurred in 2013, following the opening of Thomas Viaduct Middle in Hanover. According to Renee Kamen, the school system's planning manager, redistricting has occurred five times in the past 10 years, none of which simultaneously involved primary and secondary school levels. The redistricting efforts were done to accommodate new schools, balance existing capacity and address the closure of open enrollment in high schools.

The 2013 redistricting featured more students coming into Rockburn Elementary, Reynolds said, but made sense because of the new school opening. New residential properties continue to be built in the county, however, which only fuels the capacity problems, he said.

A bill before the County Council designed to mitigate the impact of residential development on capacity at elementary and middle schools states that schools can open to students from new nearby developments if the school's capacity is below 115 percent. After overwhelming community opposition in response to the adequate public facilities bill, the council tabled discussion on it until September.

"How could you possibly want to take the school numbers lower and open the door to more development and make the problem even worse in the future?" said Reynolds, who suggested the county authorize more home building in the west. "You can't control resale and you can't control people having babies, but you can control how many new homes are being built in already-overcrowded school districts."

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman sent a letter last week to parents about their concerns of growing residential development. Kittleman said he visited the county's 76 schools during the past school year to hear from staff and students and see the state of each school.

"During my visits, I also saw firsthand that some of our schools were visibly congested and others visibly under capacity," Kittleman said in the letter. "It is clear that this problem has needed to be addressed for some time, so that all of the children of Howard County have an equitable and positive education experience, and that our educators have reasonable class sizes."

Kittleman said two bills he submitted to the County Council would revise the adequate public facilities ordinance bill to improve the development management process but would not address certain sudden rapid development expansion within the past two years. Instead, the letter states, the bills would better control development in the future and its impact on schools and roads.

As she and her team prepare the 2017 feasibility study to be released in June, Renée Kamen, the school system's planning manager, said last year's study recommended redistricting three sections of the county for the 2018-2019 school year.

Another parent, Sridhar Kunadi, said that although his children attend schools in the west, where capacity issues are less prominent, the proposed recommendations would still send them to different schools. The Marriottsville resident said his daughter and son will start eighth grade and sixth grade, respectively, at Mount View Middle this coming year.

If the current recommendations are enforced, Kunadi said, his daughter would go to Glenelg instead of Marriotts Ridge High, while his son would move from Mount View to Folly Quarter Middle.

"Any school in Howard County is good," Kunadi said, but redistricting affects outlook of students.

"We moved here when my daughter was in elementary school and when she did orchestra events, she always went to Marriotts Ridge High School," he said. "She always thought that was her high school. She always dreamed of going to that school. It is really disheartening for her to not even go to the school."

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Redistricting is always difficult, said Board of Education chairwoman Cindy Vaillancourt, particularly with parents wanting their children to stay at their current school. Unlike redistricting in prior years, however, the school system is looking at all grade levels and considering building new schools as well as moving students.

The newest school to open will be Elementary School 42 in Hanover for the 2018-19 school year.

"Redistricting is not a cure for our overcrowding problem, but the current situation we have is an absurdity that needs to be addressed," Vaillancourt said. "Plus, all of our families deserve to have a comprehensive plan that's logical and that will create stability moving forward."

In regards to building more schools in the west as frequently suggested by parents, Vaillancourt said, the feasibility study has shown that it wouldn't fix capacity problems in the rest of the county.

"In order to do that, you have to move everybody. Then, you end up with illogical attendance areas," she said. "My goal would be to continue to work toward making sure that all of the schools are fantastic, so that that's not the problem people have with moving schools."

The Attendance Area Committee meets through mid-August and bases their recommendations on information gathered from an online public survey available on the school's website. Two regional meetings with the community will be held in September, followed by the recommendations of school system interim Superintendent Michael Martirano in October and Board of Education public hearings and work sessions through mid-November.

The board is expected to approve a redistricting plan on Nov. 16.



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