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Redistricting process to relieve crowding at Catonsville's Johnnycake Elementary School begins

A committee of nine teachers, school officials, parents and community members met for the first time this week to discuss potential boundary changes to relieve overcrowding at Johnnycake Elementary School.

Johnnycake Elementary in Catonsville is currently home to 717 students, in a building rated for 559 students, according to enrollment data from Baltimore County Public Schools. The nearby Edmondson Heights Elementary School, which is going through the boundary change process with Johnnycake, is about 50 students under capacity.

The first meeting, at Woodlawn High School, was largely introductory. About a dozen community members were in attendance to observe; public comment comes later in the process.

Committee members were talked through the process and given the opportunity to take a look at the current boundaries between Johnnycake Elementary and Edmondson Heights Elementary.

“It’s just very complicated. The one thing we keep coming up with, which is, we can move students from one school to the other, but at what capacity do we have the schools at then?” said Amanda DeLeo, a boundary change committee member.

DeLeo has children in the system, but not at Johnnycake or Edmondson Heights; she’s on the boundary committee as a representative of the Southwest Area Education Advisory Council.

Common themes emerged — committee members want to relieve crowding at Johnnycake, as they are tasked, but they don’t want to then create a crowding problem at Edmondson Heights. Relying on just boundary changes to shift school populations seems tricky, some said.

Matthew Cropper, the consultant heading the boundary change process for BCPS, explained that ongoing changes to special education programs could be part of the solution, too.

Some special education students may move to different schools from Johnnycake. A special education classroom can house fewer students than a standard classroom; by moving special education programs to a different school, a school’s capacity increases slightly.

Johnnycake and Edmondson Heights have an innate “opportunity” that was identified by the committee members — the 1-mile boundary that’s set around the elementary schools where bus service is not provided are close to each other, so it is likely that some students who currently walk to school would continue doing so if they switched from Johnnycake to Edmondson Heights.

"That does lend itself to having kind of a seamless transition,” said Haroon Rashed, a committee member who is an Edmondson Heights parent.

Russell Brown, the chief accountability officer for BCPS, said the boundary change process was meant to supply “immediate” relief to Johnnycake Elementary. He said the ongoing process does not rule out the future potential for school construction, renovation or addition projects at Johnnycake or Edmondson Heights.

It was the first of four boundary committee meetings. The committee will continue to meet until April, during which time they will work with BCPS staff and Cropper GIS Consulting LLC, an Ohio-based firm that has worked on redistricting projects with BCPS before.

The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 23, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at the Woodlawn High School cafeteria. The consulting group will present potential scenarios to the committee for review and development.

A pubic information session, where public input will be allowed, is scheduled for Feb. 27.

cboteler@baltsun.com

twitter.com/codyboteler

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