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Howard redistricting plan fractures neighborhoods

Howard County Superintendent Michael Martirano (R) and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball chat with paraeducator, Gregory Campbell and principal, Melissa Shindel on the first day of school at Lake Elkhorn Middle School Tuesday morning in Columbia.
Howard County Superintendent Michael Martirano (R) and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball chat with paraeducator, Gregory Campbell and principal, Melissa Shindel on the first day of school at Lake Elkhorn Middle School Tuesday morning in Columbia. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

As a Howard County resident with school-aged children, I am deeply troubled by the redistricting proposal put forth by Superintendent Michael J. Martirano.

As a tenured professor of communication at Loyola University Maryland, I am deeply troubled by some of the other letters (“Howard redistricting plan sacrifices families and students in the name of ‘equity,’” Aug. 27) from Howard County residents that have been published in The Sun over the past week that promote divisiveness rather than unity and try to treat certain students or schools as “less than” or “others.” This certainly goes against Jim Rouse’s vision for Columbia and the beliefs of many, if not all, of my neighbors in our southwestern portion of Howard County.

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Per the board of education’s own policy, the trigger for this recent round of redistricting in advance of the 2020-2021 academic year is that many of the county’s schools at the elementary, middle and high school level are well over capacity. For example, with no boundary adjustments, 11 of the county’s 42 elementary schools would remain above 110% capacity, with another 9 schools between 100 to 110% capacity. The superintendent’s plan would still leave the county with 9 elementary schools above 110% capacity and another 13 schools between 100 to 110% capacity. So in reality, the number of overcrowded elementary schools actually increases under the superintendent’s plan, leaving a full 50% of elementary schools at 100% capacity or higher.

What the superintendent says his plan does focus on is equity within the system, despite the community’s resounding ranking of consistent school feeds, contiguous communities and minimizing transportation times as the top three priorities that should guide the board of education during their decision making. Equity is a valuable goal, and we’d all like to see greater opportunity for all within Howard County and the larger Baltimore region. As proposed, it is not clear that the superintendent’s plan actually achieves greater equity within the system, but instead reshuffles students away from their neighborhood schools and the social, emotional, and educational benefits and resources they deserve and need to thrive. Superintendent Martirano’s plan does more to fracture neighborhoods than build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable Howard County community. And the plan results in more overcrowded elementary schools than if no changes were made.

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I implore the board of education and county residents to seek out new solutions that both better balance capacity and overutilization and promote greater equity and diversity within the system. I encourage The Baltimore Sun to publish letters to the editor that promote civility and inclusion rather than divisiveness and hate.

Amy B. Becker, Columbia

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

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