Howard schools superintendent offers plan to delay proposed redistricting

Howard County parents and community members continued to rally against the Howard County Public School System’s proposed countywide redistricting plan Tuesday evening during a regional attendance area open house at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.

However, interim superintendent Michael Martirano’s revelation during the Board of Education’s Sept. 11 meeting could possibly delay or halt redistricting at certain levels. Martirano said he plans to accelerate the opening of the county’s new High School 13, opening the school as early as 2022, while creating a language immersion program in elementary schools.

Speeding up the new high school’s construction would bring more seats for students to help with overcrowding in the eastern portion of the county, Martirano said, and the language immersion program would redirect students to different schools.

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said Wednesday that he hopes the school system will delay high school redistricting with the opening of the new high school coming sooner. The school system and county budget offices are working together, Kittleman said, and plan to start getting funding for High School 13 next year.

“I think we can make this work,” Kittleman said. “It’s important for people to realize that this is a requirement which needs state support. The state would pay for 54 percent of the school’s construction. ... Howard County’s portion is slightly less than 50 percent. We cannot — and I would never advocate that we — pay for the whole high school ourselves.”

High School 13 will cost approximately $124.1 million and have 1,615 seats. Discussions to determine the location for High School 13 are ongoing and include the Mission Road site in Jessup and an Elkridge site at Landing and Montgomery roads.

Kittleman said he plans to go to Annapolis on Oct. 18 to advocate for state funding.

“We have to move swiftly because the clock is ticking,” Martirano said. “We have approximately three to four months to make the decision about the site.”

By moving up the new high school’s opening, Martirano said the school system would delay the systemic renovations at Oakland Mills Middle School by one year. The school system has $2.3 million in prior appropriated funds, which will be used for planning and design.

In the proposed long-range master plan, Martirano said the construction of a new middle and high school career development center will tackle growing middle and high school capacities. The development center would replace the current Application and Research Laboratory in Ellicott City.

Bruce Gist, the executive director of capital planning for county schools, said the new development center will cost about $118.9 million and have about 1,600 seats, including approximately 1,000 seats for high schoolers and about 600 seats for middle schoolers. Construction will begin in 2024 and the building is expected to open in August 2028.

An addition was proposed at Hammond High School that would add 400 to 600 seats, Gist said. If high school redistricting is held off, Gist said that may “tone down the atmosphere” regarding community concerns.

“Logistically, as a parent, the biggest year of impact as far as moving forward after your high school career is really your junior year,” he said. “You’re applying to colleges, finalizing your SATs and coordinating with your guidance counselors. Those students would be more impacted than seniors.”

Gist said the Attendance Area Committee is expected to reconvene for an additional day to incorporate the new data into its redistricting evaluation and how it impacts the redistricting process. Martirano will make his recommendations to the Board of Education as planned on Oct. 3.

This change was addressed in Martirano’s proposal for a $79.7 million capital budget for fiscal 2018 and discussions of the FY 2020-2024 capital improvement program and FY 2019-2028 long-range master plan.

The proposed capital budget shows an increase of $14.4 million over the FY 2018 capital budget, with a $616 million capital improvement program over five years and $1.3 billion long-range master plan over 10 years.

At the elementary school level, the proposal incorporated final construction costs for Elementary School 42, scheduled to open in August 2018 in Elkridge; a 100-seat addition at Waverly Elementary School in Ellicott City, scheduled to open in August 2018; as well as systemic renovations at schools countywide such as roofing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

‘Moving pieces’

The budget has “a number of moving pieces,” Martirano said, which includes potential long-term solutions to alleviate overcrowding in the school system in tandem with redistricting. The school system projects nearly 10,000 additional students will enroll in Howard County public schools in the next decade.

“The only way we’ve dealt with overcapacity is through redistricting,” Martirano told the Board of Education during its Sept. 11 meeting. “It’s been very disconcerting for the board [and] our community and there are other ways to address that process; part of that are innovative programs that can be introduced to school systems.”

One such program is a new elementary regional language immersion schools program. Martirano said the program would start in three schools located in the western, central and eastern parts of the county: Clarksville Elementary, the Talbott Springs Elementary replacement and the planned Elementary School 43.

The program would direct students interested in the program to these specific schools, he said.

Clarksville Elementary is undergoing a planned expansion, while an additional seat plan would be arranged for the Talbott Springs Elementary replacement and design changes necessary at Elementary School 43.

Gist said the expansion at Clarksville Elementary will cost about $10 million, add 150 seats and is scheduled to open in August 2022. The Talbott Springs Elementary replacement, costing about $41.6 million, will begin construction in 2018 for completion in August 2021, and have 640 seats.

Elementary School 43 will also provide space for the program, Gist said, beginning construction in 2020 and costing approximately $58.6 million.

In addition to alleviating overcrowding, Martirano said the program will bring more educational opportunities to students. The program’s language will be determined by input from the board.

“In many school districts where there’s focus regarding immersion programs, young people move into these areas,” Martirano said. “Newly integrated into this capital budget is a framework for initiating an elementary regional language immersion school program.”

The school system will host its second regional attendance area open house tonight at Howard High School from 7:30 to 9 p.m., where the public can learn more about the redistricting process from the Office of School Planning.

Copyright © 2019, Columbia Flier, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad