15 Sep 2014
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School Redistricting Prompts Questions about Fracturing Neighborhoods

Parents at one Elkridge elementary school wanted answers about plans to take effect next year.

School Redistricting Prompts Questions about Fracturing Neighborhoods

Parents were concerned about neighborhoods being fractured and losing socioeconomic diversity during a meeting Monday night at about school redistricting scenarios for 2013.

The discussion came as school officials attempt to alleviate overcrowding in the northeastern part of Howard County and shuffle students so they can fill a brand- opening in fall 2013.

The two redistricting plans that have been proposed would shift students on Mayfield Avenue out of their current school, which is .

"If I'm reading the map correctly, I live on Mayfield Avenue, so either way my children would have to move to Waterloo or Bellows Spring?" asked one mother, among the 30 parents who attended the Sept. 10 session at Deep Run.

Moving students out of Deep Run is necessary because the school will be at 135.9 percent capacity in 2013, said school planning manager Joel Gallihue.

Deep Run should have 601 students, but by 2013 it will have 817 students, according to  Gallihue's enrollment projections.

Leading the presentation at Deep Run, Gallihue said that one of the proposed redistricting plans would keep Mayfield Avenue students in a district together.

All Mayfield Avenue kids would go to Waterloo Elementary School, according to a  proposal from the  Attendance Area Adjustment Committee.

Another  plan, which Gallihue proposed, would split Mayfield into two districts, with one segment going to Waterloo and the other to Bellows Spring.

"One of the things [transportation staff] said to us was that Mayfield is a connector," said Gallihue. "They're running multiple bus routes through there anyway, so it's not unreasonable to split it."

The exact street determining the split on Mayfield has not been determined, because neither redistricting plan has been adopted, said Gallihue in response to a question about where the cutoff would be for students to attend either school.

The citizen group that met over the summer “looked at trying to keep Mayfield [Avenue] together,” said Gallihue.

The goal of redistricting, however, was not to preserve communties, he added.

The policy doesn’t talk about keeping neighborhoods together. It talks about overcrowding,” said Gallihue. “While I’m always sensitive to neighborhood concerns…we can’t guarantee” that they will stay together.

By policy, schools must be from 90 to 110 percent capacity.

“That’s not based on fire code,” said Gallihue, meaning it's not based on how many people can fit in a space.

Per Board of Education-approved guidelines, the goal is to have a 22-to-1 teacher-to-student ratio in kindergarten; 19-to-1 in first and second grades; and 25-to-1 in third through fifth grades.

Said Gallihue: “It’s based on delivering the educational program effectively."

Maintaining Diversity at Deep Run

In his proposal, Gallihue called for redistricting 2,866 elementary school students countywide in 2013, or 12.4 percent of all elementary school students in the county.

In the committee's  plan, approximately 2,657 elementary school students, or 11.5 percent, would be redistricted.

The school system is hosting public hearings on the plans this week. Staff will also visit PTAs at elementary schools that are impacted, by request.

Lisa Ditter, president of the PTA at Deep Run, asked Gallihue to discuss the redistricting proposals with Deep Run parents on Monday because she wanted to ensure everyone was informed about the process early on.

In the question-and-answer session at the Sept. 10 meeting, Ditter said she was concerned that single-family-home households would be redistricted out of Deep Run.

Gallihue's redistricting proposal would shift the free-and-reduced-meal student population from 35 to 43 percent of the population at Deep Run.

The proposal from the committee would increase the free-and-reduced-meal student population at Deep Run from 35 to 40 percent.

“We are a very diverse community,” said Ditter. “Why would you change that?”

Ditter said that there were other ways to look at overcrowding, such as by adding diverse populations to other schools like , which has 14 percent of its students in the free-and-reduced-meals program. The committee's plan would increase that to 18 percent, and Gallihue's would increase it to 19 percent.

“Why not make two communities more diverse?” said Ditter.

Gallihue said that it was ideas like that which he and others would be looking for during hearings and presentations over the next two months, before the Board of Education must approve a redistricting plan on Nov. 15.

In the meantime, the two proposals for redistricting are available for public review (see Gallihue's plan and the Attendance Area Adjustment Committee's plan).

Gallihue emphasized that neither plan was final and neither plan was perfect, that the Board of Education was the decision-making body and that the ultimate plan may be a modified version based on input from the public.

He encouraged people to submit ideas to  boe@hcpss.org in succinct messages with bullets briefly outlining issues of concern and possible solutions.

Public hearings on redistricting will occur at the Board of Education meetings Oct. 23 and Oct. 25. According to Gallihue, people must sign up two weeks in advance to testify.

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