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School district lines to be aired

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County school board members will consider redistricting proposals today, chief among them one from Superintendent Kevin Maxwell that would redraw boundaries to free space at Crofton Elementary and fill a new Gambrills elementary school.

The board won't deliver its final decision on new boundaries in West County until April. But it will decide today which of the proposals - some submitted by citizen groups - to present at public hearings for community comment before the final vote.

The superintendent recommends shifting 210 Crofton Elementary students from the Walden community to the new Gambrills-area elementary school, which will open on Nantucket Drive this fall with a capacity of 713 students.

The new school is being built to ease crowding at Crofton, which is increasingly cramped and uses 10 portables to house a booming student population.

The number of students is expected to increase as the national military base realigment process brings hundreds of families to the Crofton area and the Waugh Chapel Road corridor.

"Our goal was to balance out all the elementary schools in that area and leave some capacity at all of them to accommodate the influx from BRAC," said Chuck Yocum, the district's specialist in student demographic planning.

Yocum was part of a 23-member redistricting committee whose recommendations in the fall formed the basis of Maxwell's redistricting proposal. His plan first reached the board in December.

Under Maxwell's plan, the new Gambrills school would also get 384 students, who live east of Route 3, from Four Seasons Elementary.

Yocum said the superintendent's recommendations would reduce busing costs - he didn't know by how much - because about 90 percent of the Four Seasons students who would go to the new Gambrills school would walk to school.

To refill Four Seasons, Maxwell suggests moving about 200 students from Piney Orchard Elementary, which is about 150 students over capacity and uses eight portables.

Piney Orchard parents have lobbied against this move at public hearings held by a redistricting committee since fall. Parents of the planned community said the smaller neighborhood of Settler's View would be split in half and that Maxwell's plan would unnecessarily disrupt a close-knit community.

Despite the community's criticism, Maxwell adopted the committee's recommendations, prompting a group of four Piney Orchard parents to join and offer an alternative proposal in December.

Their proposal will be among the handful that will be presented at public hearings over the next couple of months for feedback before the final board vote in April.

"You can't just plug our kids in and say, 'Done, that's it,'" said Heather Luke, one of the four Piney Orchard parents who wrote the alternative proposal. "A school is only as strong as its community, and we think Piney Orchard is strong because we have a really close community here."

The parents say that the 200 students Maxwell wants to move would include older students who would have a tough time adjusting from walled classrooms at Piney Orchard to the open-space classrooms at Four Seasons.

Instead, Luke said, the Piney Orchard parents' alternative proposal would send only kindergartners, about 110 students, to Four Seasons. The younger children would have an easier time adjusting to the open-space school, she said.

Yocum said the parents' proposal would require the school system to run an additional five buses between the Piney Orchard planned community and Four Seasons, an additional cost that might make board members wary of the option.

School board President Tricia Johnson said she expects her colleagues to forward an array of options to public hearings.

"All of us on the board empathize with the need to keep children in the same school," Johnson said. But we also have larger issues like school capacity and crowding and [base realignment] to worry about."


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