As the Howard schools' boundary lines advisory committee kicks into high gear -- making changes to draft maps at each weekly meeting, and then changes to the changes -- members are stressing that now is the time for parents to voice their suggestions and concerns.
With two weeks left before official proposals for new elementary and middle-school boundaries are presented to the public (at community meetings Sept. 24 and 25), committee members want to be informed about what their decisions might mean to communities, schools and kids.
And now is the best time to comment, they said, while the ideas are still flowing freely and every idea is fair game.
"Things are very dynamic; they're changing rapidly," said David C. Drown, the school district's coordinator of geographic systems. "Right now, we're in a very fluid part of the process, where the plans can be changed, or they can be dumped."
For the past several weeks, the committee has been working to come up with several workable plans for moving children around the county. The remapping has a number of goals, including filling a new elementary and a new middle school, relieving crowding at some schools and bringing better balance to feeder systems.
Often, by the time a potential boundary shift reaches the public ear -- and the panicked calls start coming in -- the idea has been scrapped.
"There are literally thousands of permutations that you can come up with that will work," Drown said. "But for various reasons, you end up rejecting those ideas, because the numbers won't work or it may have bad feeds from the elementary to the middle school or something just doesn't work."
"During the course of a meeting, a map can change three or four times," said Ellen Giles, chairwoman of this year's 18-member committee.
One such flip-flop occurred with the Columbia neighborhood of Dorsey's Search.
"Originally it was proposed to go to Talbott Springs, then in another proposal it remained in Thunder Hill, then in yet another proposal it goes to Running Brook," Drown said. "And those are all proposals that came and went within a two- to three-week period."
The process is incredibly intricate. One slight change to a tiny boundary line could cause shifts in multiple areas.
"Sometimes we see that by doing this, we don't solve the problem, or we create a bigger problem," Giles said. But the members want to try out every possible shift until they get the best new boundaries for the students.
"We hear about flaws and we hear about potential fixes" from parents, Drown said. "Then we'll discuss it, and sometimes we say, 'You know, after looking at this, this looks like a very good fix.'"
That's why members want to know what works and what doesn't sooner rather than later.
"By the time [draft maps] get to the point where we put them before the public, we have a pretty good sense of how the pieces will be put together, so that if someone suggests a single change, it might have a domino effect, and it might not be so easy to incorporate it," Giles said.
Although schools are closed today, the committee will meet at 7 p.m. at the Applications and Research Laboratory to work on at least five preliminary proposals for elementary schools.
Next week, they'll work to pare down proposals for middle schools.
After the official draft maps are presented to the public, the committee will continue to take public input. It will offer options for new lines and alternatives to the school board for scrutiny Oct. 25.