School board ruling appealed


A group of parents and community members is appealing the Howard County Board of Education's decision to redistrict a Columbia neighborhood of children from one elementary school into two others to relieve crowding.

Waterloo Elementary School parent Barry Budish and three others will stand before the state Board of Education at a hearing today in opposition to the school board's most recent redistricting rulings.

The board set several new boundary lines in March.

Under the new boundaries, Waterloo Elementary School will get 180 Rockburn Elementary pupils.

To make room, about 94 children at Waterloo will move to Jeffers Hill Elementary, and approximately 50 others will leave for Phelps Luck Elementary.

Budish said he and other families who live in the Snowden/Kendall Ridge area on and near Dobbin Road do not want their children to leave Waterloo for Jeffers Hill or Phelps Luck.

They say school board members did not follow proper policies and procedures when they decided to reroute the Waterloo children.

Budish's group has no attorney, but nearly 150 people in the Snowden/Kendall Ridge area have signed a petition against the school board's decision, Budish said. And seven PTAs - including those in Jeffers Hill and Waterloo - said they are concerned about the crowding the plan would cause in county focus schools, he said.

'Speaking for a community'

"We are speaking for a community," said Budish, whose fourth-grader would be sent from Waterloo to Jeffers Hill in the fall if the plan is upheld. "When the county board violates procedures in many ways," then the redistricting is unreasonable.

Budish said the school board discussed moving the Waterloo children a week before its deadline to set new boundary lines, and then did not provide an additional public hearing for parents to weigh in on that option.

"They basically said this was a work session, let's talk about ideas," Budish said. "We didn't know this was an alternative they really were considering. The people at Phelps Luck had no opportunity to speak. Nobody at Phelps Luck had any idea that they might possibly be getting another group of children at their school."

No public hearing

Budish said that without the benefit of a public hearing, some Waterloo parents tried to contact board members, but they were unable to reach them or found board members who had made their decisions and refused to hear their concerns.

The lack of opportunity for public input, Budish said, is one of many reasons for the appeal.

Another reason, he said, is that the board violated its policy by allowing some children who are at Waterloo under open enrollment to stay, while redistricting those who live within the school's boundary lines.

Focus schools

Budish also said his group questions the reasoning behind sending more children into county focus schools - such as Jeffers Hill and Phelps Luck - which receive extra resources because of low state test scores and high populations of low-income students.

"We've asked not to move the Dobbin Road community until the new [Northeastern Elementary] school opens" in 2003, Budish said. "We hope that the new school will be enough so that there's no need for redistricting into Columbia."

Budish said Dobbin Road community members aren't suggesting they know better than the school board on how and where to redistrict children.

'Unreasonably, irrationally'

"The county would like to paint us as parents who are upset because we're not getting our way. I'm not here arguing about what's a better way of redistricting. What I'm talking about is what was done ... unreasonably and irrationally."

Board member Stephen C. Bounds said he would not comment on the complaints because of legal implications. But he did say, "There is no question that the policies and procedures were followed to the letter, and that much I know."

Neil Greenberger, a spokesman for the State Board of Education, said parent groups contest school board redistricting decisions all the time, but they usually lose. He added that four Howard County groups have appealed redistricting decisions in the past 26 years, and none has been successful.

The last appeal was in 1997, when lines were drawn to fill Hollifield Elementary School.

"It happens, but it is pretty rare that the state board will not uphold the decision of a local board, as long as the local board has followed its procedures," said Greenberger.

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