Board may let pupils stay put; Northeast redistricting likely to be delayed at elementaries in fall

THE BALTIMORE SUN

To the relief of dozens of parents, the Howard County school board indicated last night that it would delay redistricting children who attend northeastern elementary schools next fall.

The board made its intentions known during an unofficial "straw vote" at a public hearing on redistricting last night.

Moving pupils in the northeast -- a rapidly growing area that has seen frequent redistricting -- probably isn't necessary next year because "the populations in these schools are not increasing as quickly as we expected," said school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

School board members said they would rather work on a long-range plan for the district, one that would address the northeast's growth and space that would be available in Columbia schools. Some 13 Columbia schools are expected to be under capacity by 2009.

Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin had originally suggested: Moving 173 students, who live in the Nottingham Village neighborhood, from Rockburn Elementary in Elkridge to Waterloo Elementary in Columbia.

Transferring 120 students, who live in the Dobbin Road areanear Snowden River Parkway, from Waterloo to Jeffers Hill Elementary in Columbia.

Redistricting 65 students, who live in the Dark Hawk/Davis Road area, from Waterloo to Phelps Luck Elementary in Columbia.

Without the elementary school changes, and with no high school redistricting scheduled for next year, only middle school children would be affected in the fall. Some 428 students from the zone feeding Clarksville Middle School would be moved to the new Lime Kiln Middle.

The board's proposal was lauded by many parents last night, but it didn't stop most of the 60-plus people in attendance from voicing concerns.

Wearing buttons with slogans saying "Neighborhood Schools Exist!" and bearing pages of data, a steady stream of residents pitched suggestions to school officials.

Several parents from the Kendall Ridge neighborhood implored the board to allow their children to stay at Waterloo Elementary, rather than moving them to Jeffers Hill. Parent Barry Budish pointed out that Waterloo and Rockburn elementaries were redistricted in 1993 and 1996.

"This alone is a good reason to delay redistricting for another year," Budish said. "Our community wants to stay at Waterloo. Please don't make us leave our neighborhood school."

"I was fortunate growing up to be able to go to my neighborhood school," said parent John Borges, also of Kendall Ridge. "We're just asking for the same thing for our kids."

Until a long-term plan is developed, other parents suggested using portable classrooms to handle overcrowding.

"I support the use of [portables] at Waterloo Elementary while a long-term plan is developed," said parent Cida Bradshaw. "Redistricting the schools every few years is not the solution."

Jeffers Hill parents said that moving 120 or more students into that school would damage efforts to raise test scores. Jeffers Hill is one of the county's focus schools -- ones that receive extra materials and staff because of lower academic performance.

"It is already taxed to the limit by the number of needy children that it serves," said Meg Feroli, a parent-volunteer who has two children at Jeffers Hill. "I know from my experience as a substitute teacher that Jeffers Hill already uses every available inch of its instructional space."

Michelle Williams, the mother of a fourth-grader at Jeffers Hill, agreed.

"It would be a stretch to believe that our school could take on the influx of students and not suffer," she said. "We are currently struggling to educate the population we have."

Parent Sara Beach -- describing redistricting as "county-mandated transiency" -- said that Columbia's established communities should not have to take on the problem of growth in the northeast county.

"My children and the other children at Jeffers Hill should not be made to suffer because of the overcrowding in the northeast part of the county," said Kelly Carney, who has two children at the school.

The school board will hold a redistricting work session at 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow.

Pub Date: 3/17/99

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