Parents and students from Howard County School's Region 3 protest against a proposed redistricting plan before 3rd public hearing at school board on Sept. 26.

To understand the heart of Howard County, one need only look at our bumpers. Across our neighborhoods, the message of ‘Choose Civility’ is a familiar sight to all. I believe that message speaks to who we are as a community.

As we take on tough challenges, we can remain empathetic for one another, we can disagree without being disagreeable, and we can engage in respectful dialogue. Right now, there is a lot of understandable passion in the community conversation around Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano’s proposed school redistricting plan.

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As the redistricting process moves forward, change is an uncomfortable fact of life. However, the truth is, we need to address school overcrowding in Howard County. The question of redistricting is not a question of “Will we redistrict?” It is a question of “How will we redistrict?”

The process for school redistricting is still ongoing, and I expect Superintendent Martirano’s proposal will likely change and evolve before a plan is finalized by the Board of Education. Throughout October and November, our Board of Education will be holding at least seven public work sessions to discuss the proposed plan. On Nov. 21st, the board is scheduled to make a final decision on school redistricting.

We have not seen truly comprehensive redistricting in years and as our county population has shifted, our old school boundaries have become obsolete. Today, some of our school buildings hold over 130% their capacity, while others sit at under 70%. Some of this comes from changes in development and growth over the last several years, as well as the ebb and flow of families in our county.

Howard County families march in protest of School Superintendent Michael Martirano's redistricting plan.
Howard County families march in protest of School Superintendent Michael Martirano's redistricting plan. (Nicole Munchel for the Baltimore/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

To ensure our children have the best education possible, they deserve classroom sizes that will foster a positive learning environment and give them access to all the tools they need to succeed. To ensure Howard County schools are the best for all of our children and educators, we are building new schools, and the Board of Education is balancing school capacities. The process of redistricting is also a necessity as we continue to work with our state partners for increased school funding.

It is important to be clear, the Board of Education is elected by our community, and they are the only decision makers in this process. Neither I nor any other elected official who does not serve on the Board of Education has an opportunity to vote on the school redistricting plan. Please know I will continue to closely monitor the process.

As the Board of Education and Superintendent Martirano determine a path forward, I encourage them to produce a thoughtful plan that values the importance of socioeconomic diversity while keeping communities together, to the extent possible. I encourage every person in Howard County to join in a respectful, productive conversation on how to make that plan a reality.

I believe that all our residents deserve a transparent process, and I believe we should all commit ourselves to the values of civility and respect for which we are known. We are all neighbors, and we are role models to our children. They are watching how we speak to one another, how we act on social media, and how we work through disagreement toward common goals — the best teaching and learning environment for all our educators and children.

Everyone in Howard County has the right and the responsibility to be engaged in this process. It is my hope that this engagement serves as a positive example for all our kids and all others around our state and nation who are watching. Moreover, most parents recognize we need redistricting, value equity and support a thoughtful redistricting plan.

If we listen to understand, speak to contribute and act to unify our community, we can create a brighter future for every child and educator.

Calvin Ball (CBall@howardcountymd.gov) is Howard County executive.

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