Older schools become an issue; Northeast parents say they are excluded from the discussion


Some parents who attended Monday night's County Council meeting about problems in Howard County's older schools say they are being left out of the discussion, despite their desire to be a part of the solutions.

"I do believe that it was kind of closed-door; it wasn't open," said Jerry Bialecki of Ellicott City, whose children attend schools in the northeast area of the county. "If we have some community issues to deal with, and we do, then we should deal with it as a whole."

Three Democratic council members called Monday night's meeting to address the concerns of parents who have children in older schools, particularly in Columbia, and who feel their children aren't getting equal treatment.

About 250 people attended the meeting, but only 10 spoke, at the invitation of the council members -- and most represented Columbia schools.

Parents elsewhere in the county said that whatever concerns exist in Columbia schools -- such as physical and educational disparities and dwindling enrollments -- also affect schools in other areas.

"The neighborhood I live in, Montgomery Meadows, is being considered for redistricting into the Columbia schools," said Gary Limon, who has two children at Ilchester Elementary School. "However, the members of the County Council that were involved in the meeting chose to exclude us, the Ellicott City area. We feel left out."

School officials have discussed redrawing some district lines to redistribute students from crowded schools to schools in Columbia, which have many empty seats.

"I think the entire county needs to have input into changes that occur in the school system," Limon said. "Because when you go to do something like redistricting, it has a domino effect. It doesn't just affect one school. It affects many schools."

Limon said people in the northeast are opposed to redistricting because of the disruption it causes to children, schools and communities.

Instead, he said, the school system and the County Council should provide more resources to older, struggling schools.

"And I think everybody in the Ellicott City-northeast area is in support of that," he said.

Some northeast parents said they were not opposed to redistricting.

"I think you can't have your cake and eat it too," Bialecki said. "You can't say we have a school that's overcrowded, but we don't want to be redistricted."

Bialecki's 13-year-old daughter attended three schools in her elementary years because of crowding in the northeast.

"There's a lot of transitioning that occurs in a child's mind during three moves," Bialecki said. "I wouldn't wish it for anyone else."

Ilchester parent Courtney Watson said that she is not opposed to redistricting, but said that she and other parents are looking for permanent answers, not temporary ones.

"We want long-term, stable solutions for the northeast," Watson said.

Limon said many northeast parents believe the County Council members who called Monday night's meeting deliberately left certain areas of the county out of the discussion because they want the issue to be polarized.

"I think some of the County Council members have created this us-vs.-them issue because they are trying to politicize this," Limon said. "They want to push redistricting instead of building the appropriate facilities to relieve the overcrowding in the northeast areas."

Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, one of the three members who called the meeting, said the northeast parents are welcome to help solve problems of Columbia schools.

"I'm pleased that they want to be a part of the solution," Guzzone said. "We certainly don't want to exclude anybody. We just wanted to hear from the people who we were interested in hearing from."

Guzzone said more public discussions will be held in coming months with the goal of addressing everyone's concerns and identifying common solutions.

"We do need everybody's input to deal with these issues," Guzzone said. "But folks need to realize that these particular council members' interest in these issues sprung out of issues at certain schools. That's where it started."

Pub Date: 10/20/99

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