Residents' plan backed

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell has rejected some of a consultant's recommendations for changing school district boundaries, instead favoring the desires of communities that would be affected.

In a report that will be presented to the school board next week, Maxwell largely recommended following community recommendations for four areas: Hilltop Elementary and Ferndale Early Education Center; Deale Elementary and Shady Side Elementary; Seven Oaks Elementary School and other West County schools in the Meade feeder system; and Benfield Elementary and Oak Hill Elementary.

School system officials had asked each community to come up with its own plan for changing attendance boundaries or dealing with rising enrollment in those areas.

In a closely watched case, Maxwell is recommending that the attendance boundaries for Benfield Elementary School in Severna Park remain unchanged, after hundreds of parents asked that their school boundaries be left alone.

School officials had been considering a recommendation to move about 100 pupils from the Benfield attendance area to nearby Oak Hill Elementary.

"The school (Benfield) is 100 students over capacity and continuing to grow," said Chuck Yocum, the school system's specialist in student demographic planning. "We have 150 seats available at Oak Hill, but obviously, the community was not in favor of that."

Benfield parents asked that instead of moving pupils to a new school, that additional portable classrooms be used. Yocum said that, if the superintendent's recommendations hold, there will be three new portables at Benfield next year - two for all-day kindergarten - bringing the total there to eight. Also, some of the school's rooms would be modified to create additional classroom space.

Besides not including boundary changes for Benfield Elementary School, school officials also abandoned some changes being considered for Deale and Shady Side elementary schools. The current recommendation by the superintendent would move Broadwater Road's boundaries from Shady Side to Deale.

Among the other changes recommended in the report are boundaries for the new Seven Oaks Elementary School. The drawing of the attendance zone for that school affects the boundaries of other West County elementary schools. In the proposal, Seven Oaks school would be assigned to the Meade feeder system.

Maxwell's report is on the board's agenda for its Wednesday meeting. According to school system officials, the board will respond to the report in January and can make changes to the superintendent's recommendations. Things that typically are considered, said school board president Tricia Johnson, are community desires, school capacity and infrastructure and transportation costs.

"We will take a good month or so and study the proposal," Johnson said. Once the board studies the possibilities, it likely will schedule public hearings, especially for the Seven Oaks boundaries, Johnson said. The board will have to vote by April 30 in order to change any boundaries for next school year.

The "Strategic Facilities Utilization Master Plan," which was conducted by the consulting firm of MGT of America and presented to the board in July, recommended shifting attendance boundaries for 32 of the county's elementary schools - even though enrollment countywide is projected to remain flat.

The consultant cited changing enrollment patterns and a state mandate to offer full-day kindergarten for all students by next fall. Benfield Elementary was among those recommended for redistricting in that report.

Johnson said that the $490,000 facilities study has been "very helpful," but that it's "only one tool" in considering school system boundaries. Community desires have to be taken into account, she added.

"It's their school," Johnson said. "And their voice needs to be heard."

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