The county's school redistricting debate shifted south last night and quickly exploded into a regional battle, with South Carroll parents charging that plans to relocate their children were devised simply to justify building schools for the Westminster area.
"We cannot and should not continue to move our students all over the county," said Emily Wolf, a parent from Woodbine. "Let's not waste any more money building more schools in the wrong places."
A crowd of more than 600 filled Liberty High School's auditorium, a day after hundreds packed Westminster High for a similar event. The school system is holding forums to allow parents to comment on a proposal that would redraw the lines determining where Carroll students attend school. The plan, if passed, would be phased in during the next three years and move more than 4,000 students.
School officials say the shift, which would mark the most extensive redistricting effort in recent memory in the county, is necessary to balance enrollment as three new schools open: Shiloh Middle in Hampstead this fall, Century High in South Carroll next year and a high school in Westminster in 2002.
School officials and members of the committee that designed the redistricting plan wanted to offer the crowd good news. They drew applause when they said they were considering leaving high school juniors and seniors out of the plan and letting them remain in their schools.
Residents applauded wildly after another announcement: The maps they saw last night were not etched in stone.
"It is not complete, we know that," said Cindy Parr, the Finksburg parent who chaired the redistricting committee. "We are seeking your input."
One of the more united groups protesting the redistricting proposal is from Sykesville, a town of 3,500 on the Carroll-Howard border. Under the plan, 54 pupils from Hawk Ridge on Sykesville's western edge would be moved from Piney Ridge Elementary to Linton Springs Elementary.
Cathy Rees, one of the organizers, said more than 30 parents met in her living room Monday to plan yesterday's presentation. At the meeting, speakers argued that moving children from their area violated a guideline -- namely, keeping communities intact -- stated by the committee that drafted the redistricting plan.
Detailed maps of the proposed redistricting are available for review at school libraries. A final version of the proposal, with any revisions based on public comment, will be presented to the school board Feb. 29.
After further public input, the school board is scheduled to vote on the plan March 27. School officials have said that vote might be delayed if major objections to the plan remain.
The redistricting debate has dredged up a long-standing battle in the county over which regions need relief for crowded schools. When Century High was first planned in South Carroll, Westminster-area parents received promises from school and county officials that their town would see a new high school on the heels of Century.
School officials have said enrollments in Westminster are not high enough to fill a second high school. By redistricting, they are trying to shift students from south to north to fill the extra seats. The officials describe the redistricting plan as a way to lower enrollment at all of the county's high schools while filling the new high school in Westminster.
In South Carroll, many residents say a school in Westminster might not be necessary if enrollment projections there do not justify it. Additionally, they complain that their children would be inconvenienced only to keep a political promise to Westminster residents.
Last night, many parents suggested building additions to schools in South Carroll if that is where crowding exists.