Parents aim to 'blitz' redistrict plan Boundary affecting Sparks pupils draws 'strong opposition'


With hundreds of signatures collected on petitions, parents from Cockeysville to Hereford will rally tomorrowin an effort to delay -- or derail -- the planned transfer of students to the new Sparks Elementary School in the fall.

The public hearing at 7 p.m. at Hereford High School is expected to draw hundreds of parents hoping to persuade Baltimore County school officials to find another way to redraw elementary school boundaries in the county's first widespread redistricting in years.

"There's very strong opposition," said Jane Buchanan, PTA president at Fifth District Elementary School. "There's an all-out blitz by the parents."

The Sparks Elementary boundary lines have emerged as the main conflict in this year's redistricting effort. The boundary changes were proposed in March and will not be voted on by the school board until next month.

Over the past two weeks, proposals to relieve middle school crowding in the southwestern and northwestern areas of the county drew relatively little opposition during public hearings.

School officials have delayed until next year consideration of a proposal that would affect two elementary schools in the southeastern county.

But in northern Baltimore County, parents are upset by the plan to send 101 Jacksonville Elementary School students and 59 Fifth District Elementary School students to Sparks Elementary, which is under construction.

The new school, a replacement for the Sparks building that burned down in 1995, is scheduled to open in the fall, possibly as early as mid-October. Sparks students have been attending Cockeysville Middle School since the fire.

The parents who disagree with the Sparks redistricting plan largely fall into two groups: those who want redistricting postponed until next year and those who don't want their children moved at all.

"We don't want to switch schools because Fifth District isn't overcrowded, so there is no need for this," said Liz Yates, who has a second-grader and a kindergartner at Fifth District. "If I

thought there was a need because my

children were in an overcrowded school, I would be leading the bandwagon.

"But the school is wonderful, and this community is part of Fifth District."

At least 90 percent of the families that would have to shift from Fifth District to Sparks have signed a petition against the move, Yates and Buchanan said.

They object because they don't want to leave Fifth District and don't think they should have to because the school isn't crowded. The petition will be presented to school officials at tomorrow's public hearing.

Timing problem

Families of the Jacksonville students are not upset that their children are likely to have to transfer to Sparks, but they vehemently disagree with the timing of the redistricting.

The Jacksonville pupils who would be transferred to Sparks live in an area that had been assigned to Sparks before the fire, and they say they are not surprised to be redistricted back to Sparks.

"The problem is where are the kids going to go to school from the middle of August until the new school opens?" asked Fran Ciampaglio, who has two children at Jacksonville.

"I don't mind going, because Jacksonville is a lot farther away than Sparks. But going in the fall will be a real problem."

School officials have suggested that the children being transferred to Sparks be taught at Cockeysville Middle for the two or more months of the school year until the new building opens.

They also have suggested leaving children at Jacksonville and Fifth District until the new building opens.

Neither alternative is popular with parents.

'Real disruption'

Cockeysville Middle parents are particularly worried about the idea of adding a large number of students to a school that houses the middle school and Sparks Elementary.

"While we at Cockeysville Middle School have been a most generous host, we do not want an additional 150 children at our school, even for just a couple of months," said Julie Ostheller, PTA president at Cockeysville Middle.

Tomorrow's public hearing marks the final phase of the local boundary-line meetings. School officials will present revised redistricting plans to the school board May 19, and the school board will hold a countywide public hearing on the proposals June 2.

The board is scheduled to vote on the boundary changes June 16.

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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