Howard County Superintendent Michael Martirano's redistricting plan would move 7,300 students to new schools.
Howard County Superintendent Michael Martirano's redistricting plan would move 7,300 students to new schools. (Nate Pesce/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

According to its government, Howard County is racist, classist and does not yet pay enough taxes. But the Board of Education and the County Council have plans to change that.

Superintendent Michael Martirano unveiled a redistricting plan that could teach rich people a lesson. Starting next year, Mr. Martirano’s plan will seek to balance the poverty rate among all schools in the district. For the sake of equity, some students at River Hill — the high school with the highest test scores in Howard County — will be assigned to the school with the county’s lowest test scores, Wilde Lake. At the same time, River Hill would get more crowded, receiving students from Wilde Lake, Atholton, and Reservoir. Consequently, reading and math scores at River Hill are projected to fall by 6 and 9 percentage points, respectively, down to a level of 76% proficiency in reading and 64% proficiency in math. In total, 7,300 students would be relocated across the system, according to a consultant’s report on Mr. Martirano’s plan.

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Of course, the superintendent’s goal for these students is not to increase their test scores. Or to increase any other measure of academic achievement. “All of our schools are top notch,” he said. Rather, “leading with equity as the driver,” the superintendent’s goal is to increase the number of low-income families in some schools and reduce that number in other schools, as measured by the means-tested Free and Reduced price meals program (FARM).

Students enrolled in the FARM program apparently suffer lower graduation rates. So perhaps the Board of Education should require these students to apply for the 26 socioeconomic assistance programs intended to help them succeed. Or the board should invest in at-risk students, individually, to improve their prospects. But the superintendent’s redistricting plan does nothing for these children except shuffle them around the system. Why? For the sake of “equity.”

Jumping on the equity bandwagon, some members of the County Council said Howard County needs a “county-wide integration plan to desegregate its schools,” which exhibit “socioeconomic and racial segregation.” They drafted a resolution calling on the Board of Education to exploit the redistricting process so as “to ensure that Howard County Public Schools are integrated by socioeconomic factors.” Their resolution cites the fact that “in the post-slavery period of the United States, we as a nation have had a long troubling history of attempting to justify ‘separate, but equal’ public facilities.”

But superintendent Martirano’s plan would exacerbate racial segregation. The councilmembers’ resolution says segregated schools are “defined as schools where less than 40 percent of the student population is white.” Under this metric, 43 schools in Howard County are racially segregated. The superintendent’s redistricting plan would increase this number to 45.

To be sure, these councilmembers are incorrect. Howard County is not, in fact, segregated — and Superintendent Martirano is not a segregationist. Segregated public schools have been illegal since 1954. And Howard County closed its last segregated school almost 55 years ago. But according to the County Council’s bizarre resolution, schools like Thunder Hill Elementary, where the racial composition closely tracks the countywide average, are segregated, whereas schools like Lisbon Elementary, which is 79% white, are not segregated.

That being said, Howard County does contain pockets of extreme wealth, largely because the school system is a magnet for new families outbidding each other for the privilege of sending their kids to high-scoring schools like River Hill. Accordingly, real estate signage in the River Hill zone advertises homes starting at $1 million.

Just wait until these families learn about Howard County’s racial segregation problem! Or about the superintendent’s vision for spreading poverty across the system. And imagine the word-of-mouth from residents who just paid a million dollars to send their kids to the highest-scoring high school, only to learn that, next year, their kids could get sent to the lowest-scoring high school instead. All so that the Board of Education can pat itself on the back for its commitment to equity, and so that the County Council can roleplay the Civil Rights movement. You can rest assured that Howard County’s wealth disparities won’t be a problem for long.

Which is perhaps why the County Council’s next proposed step is a tax increase on new residential units. Councilmembers introduced a brilliant follow-up resolution that would multiply the School Facilities tax by more than 500%, increasing the levy from $1.32/square foot to $6.80/square foot. They expect that this tax increase will raise $150 million over the next 10 years from all the rich people clamoring to join a racially segregated school district that also discriminates on the basis of income in pursuit of systemwide equity.

Between the County Council and the Board of Education, it seems that Howard County’s government is committed to transforming the demographic makeup of the community. Maybe voters should change the makeup of the county government instead.

Lew Jan Olowski (lew.jan.olowski@gmail.com) is an attorney and a Howard County resident.

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