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BOE candidates tackle redistricting question

November 30, 1999|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Each of the nine candidates vying for four open seats on the Washington County Board of Education was asked the following question:

The Washington County Board of Education recently voted on redistricting changes that affect more than 15 schools. Redistricting was undertaken to fill a new elementary school being built south of Hagerstown and two larger replacement elementary schools for Maugansville and Pangborn. Would you have done anything differently, and why?

Donna Brightman said she has a unique perspective on redistricting, having served on the committee that proposed the changes to the board and as a voting member of the board that adopted those changes.

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She served on the facilities and enrollment advisory committee before being appointed to the Board of Education.

Brightman said programming for the new Rockland Woods Elementary, like a possible magnet or signature program, should have been part of initial discussions about redistricting.

"Parents look at those things" when considering a school for their children, she said.

Jacqueline B. Fischer said she does not consider redistricting as just a way of filling Rockland Woods Elementary. She said redistricting was a way to bring as many schools as possible to state-rated capacity or local-rated capacity.

Fischer, who served as a member of the facilities and enrollment advisory committee that has studied redistricting for about one year, said the Board of Education and Washington County Public Schools staff worked hard and came up with a good outcome.

"It was not an ideal situation because of where the school was placed," Fischer said.

She said the changes that have been approved by the board will help about 15 of the county's schools.

W. Edward Forrest says he's disappointed that the redistricting process has not yet been completed.

The plan adopted by the Board of Education will leave about 200 empty seats at Rockland Woods Elementary School when it opens in September. The board is, however, continuing to study additional options.

"Hopefully the (board) will move forward on that," Forrest said.

With those seats still unfilled, he said it will be difficult for the board to receive state, and even county, funding to build new schools.

"I do have to say that the fact that the process is not complete at this time is disappointing to me," Forrest said.

Meredith Fouche said the former board of county commissioners made a mistake.

Fouche says commissioners made a deal with the developer of the housing development in which Rockland Woods Elementary is being built ? Westfields. He said they allowed the developer to build more houses in exchange for land for a new elementary school.

"In hindsight, what should have been done was addition on Fountain Rock (Elementary School) and Greenbrier (Elementary School)," Fouche said. "However, that did not happen."

Justin M. Hartings said that any decisions made about redistricting must balance two competing interests: filling a new school and preserving the community.

He said the Board of Education should have included programming decisions for Rockland Woods Elementary in its early discussions about moving students to the new school.

By letting parents know they can send their children to a bigger, nicer school with improved programs, they might want to make the change, he said.

He said those offerings, like a magnet or signature program, should be unique to the school ?not moved from an existing school.

Tom Janus said he likely would not have done anything differently.

"I would ensure that any redistricting decisions included parent, child, travel time and distance considerations," he said. "Safety of the child would be my primary consideration."

Janus said that when he attempted to get some information about the redistricting of students in his own neighborhood, he never heard back from Washington County Public Schools officials. He asked those officials why students were traveling farther to get to their newly assigned school.

"You have to get back to people," he said, advocating for better communication with parents and community members. "That's unacceptable."

Margaret Lowery said she would like to have seen the redistricting process handled a "little differently."

While she believes the outcome was good, Lowery said she would have done more planning in the beginning. She said she hopes the community does not face redistricting of the county's schools in the future. However, if that decision is made, Lowery said more discussions about zoning and the mitigation plan will make decisions about redistricting more effective.

"They'll be on the right foot for the future," she said.

Wayne D. Ridenour said the committee that has studied redistricting for about a year did its job, and he isn't sure if he would change anything about the redistricting decisions that he and other board members made.

"Almost every school we have is overcrowded," Ridenour said. "We need to provide relief."

He said redistricting wasn't so much about filling a new school as it was about using available space to provide the best education for children in Washington County.

"We just wanted to make it the best fit for everyone," Ridenour said.

Russell F. Williams II said the redistricting proposals voted on by the Board of Education were a mixture of input from parents and Washington County Public Schools staff.

The facilities and enrollment advisory committee that has studied redistricting of the county's schools for about one year had representatives from throughout Washington County, Williams said.

He said that the public, including parents, had many opportunities to comment throughout the decision-making process.

He said that was the "proper approach."

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