Though no specific solutions were reached, a task force studying ways to help Columbia's older schools touched on issues ranging from redistricting to PTA fund-raising to housing, during a meeting last night.
Retired educators, residents and members of the Columbia Council discussed how the community can help ensure equity among Howard County schools, and how a proposed donation of $100,000 from the council might best benefit some Columbia schools.
At a recent budget work session, Columbia Council members agreed to include the donation in the Columbia Association's proposed budget for the 2001 fiscal year, an unprecedented move by the CA's governing body.
Last night's meeting followed a Monday night forum on school equity organized by members of the Howard County Council.
"If there are certain schools at risk, it's going to impact various neighborhoods," said Vince Marando, a Columbia Council member who represents Wilde Lake village. "This is new territory for us."
Part of last night's meeting focused on test scores and how their increasing importance has colored many parents' perceptions of schools with lower scores.
Retired teacher Frank Lymon said he had heard stories of parents who move to escape a low-scoring school, though their children are doing well.
"The way [the scores] are being received and the way the community is receiving them is part of the problem," Lymon said.
Sue Aaron, a resident of Columbia's Running Brook community since 1973, said the shifting demographics of her neighborhood might indicate the future of Columbia.
Families are moving out
Though Running Brook has more than 300 single-family homes, only 35 children at the neighborhood elementary school come from those homes, and the majority live in other, lower-income housing areas. Families are moving out, and many of the people buying houses in the neighborhood are older people without children.
"You can call it perception or reality, but that is the situation," said Aaron, an education committee member of Howard County -- A United Vision. "I think the other [Columbia] neighborhoods are shortly behind. I think it's just the beginning. I don't know what the solution is."
Thomas Brown, a former principal at Talbott Springs Elementary School, said the school system should not aid parents who want to leave schools by offering them open enrollment at other schools.
This year, dozens of parents took their children out of Wilde Lake Middle School in Columbia and enrolled them in the new Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton, though they had to pay thousands of dollars for bus transportation.
Those attending last night's meeting agreed that, if the Columbia Council decides to make donations to schools, the money should not be in lieu of adequate school-system funding.
"The funds should have nothing to do with things the school system is obligated to provide," said psychologist and Oakland Mills Village Board member Joel Roth.