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Howard schools to begin redistricting process

The Howard County school system will begin a comprehensive redistricting process next week for the 2020-21 academic year.

In January, the county Board of Education unanimously approved directing schools Superintendent Michael Martirano to begin the redistricting process for all grade levels across the school system.

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The boundary review, which has potential to affect all of the district’s 74 comprehensive schools, begins June 13 with the release of the annual feasibility study at the school board’s general meeting.

Three schools — Homewood, Cedar Lane and the Applications Research Laboratory — are categorized as non-comprehensive and therefore will not be part of the process.

“This review is critical due to population growth that has resulted in crowing at many schools while schools in other areas are underutilized,” Martirano said in a message June 4 to the entire school system community.

Howard’s 77-school district had nearly 57,000 students enrolled for the current academic year. For this upcoming school year, an enrollment growth of 850 students across all grade levels is projected, school officials said.

The annual feasibility study “is a comprehensive look at the 10-year student enrollment projections” for the school system, according to Martirano. The study is based on the most recent available data that includes student population growth yielded from participating in the school system’s Free and Reduced Meals program, sales of existing housing units, and from projected new housing units.

The 2019 study will provide possible options, based on available capacity and data, for boundary adjustments.

Throughout the process, community members will have the opportunity to share feedback and recommendations through an online form, four input sessions and three school board public hearings.

The online form is open from June 14 until Aug. 1. The three public hearings will take place in September.

Community input sessions will be in July:

  • July 10, 7 to 9 p.m. at Oakland Mills High School for families zoned for attending Centennial, Howard, Mt. Hebron or Oakland Mills high schools
  • July 13, 9 to 11 a.m., at Long Reach High School for any family that is unable to attend their regional session
  • July 16, 7 to 9 p.m. at Atholton High School for families zoned to attend Atholton, Hammond, Long Reach or Wilde Lake high schools
  • July 18, 7 to 9 p.m. at River Hill High School for families zoned to attend Glenelg, Marriotts Ridge, Reservoir or River Hill high schools

Martirano is asking for the “community to practice civility during what can be an emotional process.”

“I want to emphasize that I value the needs and perspectives of all our students, families and staff,” Maritrano said. “I also want to make it clear that I will assign no special consideration for the priorities of any individuals or specific planning area representatives, no matter how vocal or well-organized.”

In January, the school board gave the OK for Martirano to explore having a consultant assist with the redistricting process. He was also directed by the school board to review the school attendance area policy.

Cooperative Strategies LLC, an independent consulting firm based in Irvine, Calif., is analyzing data in the 2019 feasibility study. If there is available funding in the school system’s fiscal 2020 budget, the firm will “serve as a neutral facilitator” for the redistricting process, Martirano said.

Cooperative Strategies would oversee the Attendance Area Committee’s work, respond to questions, test alternative scenarios, and collect and compile public input.

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The consultant would also “advise me on a solution,” Martirano said.

The Attendance Area Committee will review options in the feasibility study and make recommendations to Martirano before he brings his proposal to the school board.

The attendance area adjustment plan is scheduled to be presented at the Aug. 20 school board meeting. The school board is slated to approve the plan in November.

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