At a public work session last night on school redistricting, the Howard County Board of Education responded to parents' concerns about racial balance.
The board addressed concerns that the school system had created racially and socioeconomically unbalanced schools through past redrawing of boundaries, an allegation an Ellicott City parent repeated recently before community groups and the board.
School board chairman Dana Hanna, reading from a prepared statement, said the allegation was "based on false assumptions and improper conclusions, which are misleading and present a distorted picture."
He said the school system has tried to equitably address the needs of all students -- regardless of their race or the income of their parents -- through allocations of funds, implementation of programs and policy actions.
Responding to the parent's suggestion that the school system redraws boundary lines to equally apportion the number of students from low-income families among the schools, Mr. Hanna said: "The primary flaw in such a strategy is that it places all the burden of resolving the problem on the low socioeconomic students who would be reassigned to a school other than the one which serves their neighborhood."
Given that elementary schools are neighborhood-based, shifting such students to achieve a balance would mean that they "would have to be bused to the various schools throughout the county to ensure an equal distribution of poverty-level students at all schools," he said.
Mr. Hanna said that in redistricting, the school board takes into consideration 10 factors -- of which socioeconomic distribution is one -- and "all 10 factors cannot be equally balanced in every situation, and in many circumstances, consideration of one factor eliminates the possibility of considering another."
He pointed out that schools have different ratios of low-income and minority students "because of housing patterns intentionally created in given neighborhoods of the county."
On another issue, Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin has suggested that the school system build an expansion at either Centennial or Atholton high schools to accommodate an additional 1,300 students expected to move into the county by the next decade. The board will hold two public hearings at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at Howard High School to allow parents and others a chance to voice their opinions.
The board votes on the matter March 23.
During the meeting, board member Sandra French asked why Burleigh Manor Middle School was allowed to be under capacity.
"Lack of students at this point in time," answered Mr. Kalin, who added that he wanted to create a student-base to fill the new Mount View Middle School, which opens next school year in Marriottsville.
Ms. French also questioned why the proposed technology preparation curriculum would be based at two new high schools, scheduled to open in 1996, instead of existing schools such as Wilde Lake or Oakland Mills.
"Traditionally, a magnet program has been awarded to schools [that] have needs," she said, adding that she was worried about equity issues that parents may raise.
Superintendent Michael E. Hickey responded that while funding and space prevented the school system from offering the program at all schools, it would have been difficult to choose which existing school would receive the program.