School redistrict plans

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County School Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell has presented the school board with plans to redistrict schools in the South County and Mountain Road areas of the county, attempting to disrupt as few community schools as possible and remedy many of the area's overcrowding issues using magnet schools.

Maxwell's recommendations for the South County closely mirror those of a committee made up of community leaders and parents who studied the issue there.

However, Maxwell largely veered from the panel's recommendations for the Mountain Road corridor, choosing to keep most students in their current home districts and feeder system, with hopes that he can solve some of the area's space problems with magnet schools and programs that would attract voluntary student transfers.

The redistricting process will be the subject of public hearings in the spring and a final vote by the board.

Maxwell said during Wednesday's school board meeting that he will convene a committee in January to "look at educational opportunities" that could alleviate overcrowding in some areas.

"Redistricting is never easy," he said.

The superintendent said he recognized that many parents buy their homes with the idea of sending their children to schools nearby and that changes to those plans would cause anxiety.

"Nevertheless, redistricting is something we need to ensure the balance of our schools," Maxwell said.

According to statistics from the school system, both the Mountain Road corridor and South County have underused and overcrowded schools.

Edgewater Elementary School, for example, should have no more than 411 students, according to state mandates. But its enrollment this year is 444 students.

Meanwhile, Tracey's Elementary can have 397 students but has 268 this year. High Point Elementary in Pasadena is at 188 percent capacity this school year, with 636 students.

Among the changes Maxwell has recommended:

* 74 students from the Boone's Estates area, who attend Lothian Elementary School, would be transferred to Tracey's Elementary in Tracy's Landing.

* 147 Riviera Beach students who attend Chesapeake Bay Middle School would instead attend George Fox Middle School.

* 40 students from the Tanyard Springs neighborhood, who attend Solley Elementary School, would instead attend Marley Elementary School.

These students would then attend Marley Middle and Glen Burnie High schools, rather than George Fox Middle and Northeast High schools.

At least one school board member, Eugene Peterson, who represents District 32 on the school board, questioned whether the superintendent's plans would alleviate overcrowding and under-utilization at schools.

"We play around the edges and we end up still having capacity problems," Peterson said. "And we end up getting dinged at the state level when they say, 'Why aren't you doing what you're supposed to do?' "

Alex L. Szachnowicz, the chief operating officer for the county school department, said it is important to remember while redistricting that although finances are important, maintaining a healthy community fabric is also important.

"We do, to some extent, believe in community schools," Szachnowicz said, adding that schools in rural communities typically serve as community space for recreational activities.

"The numbers don't always tell the tales," he said.

Michael G. Leahy, an at-large member of the board, said the school board's job is to follow state mandates, and it is not responsible for keeping communities socially intact.

"The law isn't suited to community schools," said Leahy. "It's suited toward utilization of schools.

"We have to do a better job of educating the public," he said. "Something has to give from time to time. I want to do a better job of making sure the public's aware of that dichotomy."

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