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The Howard County school board last week unanimously approved a measure directing Superintendent Michael Martirano to begin a comprehensive redistricting process for all grade levels across the school system.

Any redistricting plan that emerges would not take effect for the upcoming school year, but rather for the 2020-2021 year.

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Martirano agreed with the seven-member board, saying redistricting is needed to address countywide student enrollment.

The Howard County school system has partnered with the county health department and the Maryland Department of Health to not only make condoms accessible but also provide STI prevention education.

“I’m here tonight as our superintendent saying we can only manage this so much longer,” Martirano said at Thursday’s meeting. “I see no other option because of my concern with where we are at this critical tipping point.”

The 77-school district has nearly 58,000 students enrolled for the 2018-2019 academic year. An enrollment growth of 850 students across the district is being projected for the upcoming school year, according to school officials.

Last fall the board decided against redrawing attendance boundaries for the 2019-20 academic year, and instead pursued adding or expanding specialty programs that would attract students to other schools.

Earlier this month, officials announced a plan to allow students who currently attend Centennial or Howard high schools to voluntary transfer to either Glenelg or Marriotts Ridge beginning in the fall as a means of helping ease overcrowding at Howard and Centennial, the system’s two most crowded high schools.

Officials said between 450 and 500 students from Howard and nearly 300 Centennial students would need to transfer to offset crowding.

But issues with school capacity are being experienced elsewhere. Throughout the system 220 relocatable, or portable, classrooms are “strategically placed” to alleviate crowding. With those portable classrooms in place, all county schools are below 110 percent capacity levels, Martirano said.

Howard County is one step closer to having voters choose five of the seven school board members by County Council districts.

It would cost more than $150 million to remove all the portable classrooms and replace the structures with brick and mortar buildings, he said.

Martirano also said it’s important to note that “an overcrowded school does not necessarily mean the classrooms is overcrowded.” He said the school system maintains staffing ratios in all schools.

While some schools are crowded, there are empty seats in others. There are nearly 3,000 available seats “sprinkled across grade levels,” according to school system data. That figure matches the nearly 3,000 seats that officials say are needed in all grade level schools.

Of the county’s 42 elementary schools, there are 1,527 seats available while 1,224 are needed. In Howard’s 20 middle schools there are 562 open seats with 553 needed, according to the data.

And at the high school level, there is a 353-seat deficit. In the county’s 12 high schools, 858 seats are available for students to fill but there are 1,211 needed.

Howard County students who currently attend Centennial or Howard high school--the county’s two-most crowded high schools--can request to move to a different school for the upcoming academic year.

The number of available seats, whether positive or negative, was found by taking a school’s enrollment number as of Nov. 30 and subtracting the school’s capacity level — not including it does not include seats gained with portable classrooms. The county also did not include pre-kindergarten classes, according to data.

As part of its directive, the school board approved for Martirano to explore having a consultant assist with the redistricting process as well as directing him to review the school attendance area policy.

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There is no timeline set as to how the process will unfold. However, the school board will have to make a final decision by November of whether or not they will go through with the redistricting process.

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