To balance elementary enrollments at crowded schools in South Carroll and Mount Airy, school officials have proposed moving about 350 pupils among schools in the southern portion of the county next year.
About 120 Mount Airy Elementary pupils - this year's fourth-grade class - would move temporarily to Mount Airy Middle School and use portable classrooms on school grounds.
One hundred and thirty-four pupils from Linton Springs Elementary would move to Winfield Elementary and 99 Eldersburg Elementary pupils would move to Freedom Elementary.
Parents can comment on the proposed boundary changes at a public hearing at 7 p.m. today at Century High School on Ronsdale Road in Eldersburg.
James Doolan, the school system's transportation supervisor, was chairman of this year's redistricting committee.
"The proposal addresses the southern part of the county in regards to numbers and balancing enrollments and looking at where a new school is projected," he said. "We've taken the 2004 [elementary school] opening date and balanced out the students to the point that all the schools had some room by moving the least amount of students necessary."
Redistricting - or redrawing the borders that determine which schools children attend - is an incendiary issue, especially in suburban counties, where growth has forced a boom in school construction.
Although the process frays nerves and stirs tensions, the county's last redistricting effort was far more complicated.
A plan approved in March 2000 shifted 3,170 schoolchildren over three years in a gradual nudge northward, moving students from quickly developing South Carroll to the Westminster area.
At the final public hearing on that plan, parents cheered, hugged and wept as the school board slashed entire sections of the original proposal in response to the pleas of parents and students.
But with housing developments continuing to sprout in the southern part of the county, especially in the Mount Airy area, school officials decided that the elementary school boundaries needed to be redrawn again.
According to the school district's most recent enrollment projections, crowding at Eldersburg, Linton Springs and Mount Airy elementaries would worsen over the next two years, while the pupil ranks will thin out at Freedom and Winfield elementaries.
Nowhere is the situation more dire than at Mount Airy Elementary, where 738 pupils attend classes in a school built for 666. The building is projected to have 1,018 pupils - 352 more than its capacity - by 2004 when a second elementary school is scheduled to open.
Temporarily moving the school's fifth-graders to the middle school grounds next door would free five classrooms and end the practice of teaching music on the stage and having art teachers take their "classrooms on carts" to teach throughout the building.
"It's a very difficult decision to not have fifth-graders be part of our elementary school," Mount Airy Principal Thomasina Piercy said. "But one of the most significant reasons for doing it would be that the proposed growth is going to continue."
"What we're actually doing is creating room for continuous growth so that it will be manageable and our children will have a safe environment during this stage until the second elementary school for Mount Airy will open," she said.
Piercy and her staff are working to keep pupils and parents focused on the school's successes, rather than the hardships and turmoil created by crowding and redistricting.
The principal has declared Friday to be Mount Airy Cardinal Pride Day to celebrate the school's recent success on Maryland's annual pupil assessment exams. Mount Airy achieved the highest scores of the county's 21 elementary schools and was one of four to improve its scores from a year earlier.
In celebration, Piercy will have flavored ice treats for pupils at lunch Friday, breakfast for teachers and congratulatory pins for the staff.
To see maps and explanations of proposed boundary changes, or to e-mail comments to the school board, use the Carroll County school system's Web site at http://ccpl.carr.org/ccps/admin/transportation/redistrict.htm.