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Redistricting plans raise doubts

January 28, 2002

Redistricting plans raise doubts



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com

What: The Washington County Board of Education will take a final vote on 11 school redistricting proposals.

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: The School Board's central office at 820 Commonwealth Ave., Hagerstown



As the Washington County Board of Education moves closer to a final vote on which schools to give new attendance boundaries next year, parents continue to question the feasibility of the School Board's proposals.

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The board will vote on 11 school redistricting proposals Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the board's central office at 820 Commonwealth Ave. in Hagerstown. The proposals involve sending 541 students to different schools over the next several years.

"I think the School Board is taking redistricting too early as a solution and isn't considering the tremendous inconvenience to parents and families in the community," said Lisa Freeman of Williamsport.

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Freeman's seventh-grade daughter, Amelia, attends Springfield Middle School in Williamsport. One of the board's proposals includes sending some Williamsport-area students to Boonsboro schools.

The board claims redistricting will balance enrollments at overcrowded and underutilized schools, which would create a better learning environment for students.

Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan has said the Williamsport schools are overcrowded and need relief, particularly Williamsport Elementary School. She said enrollment in that area will continue to increase.

Freeman, however, said she doesn't believe the Williamsport area will see significant growth.

"The Williamsport area is not growing that rapidly," she said. "There just isn't that much to be had here."

If the board votes to shift the Williamsport students to Boonsboro, she'll consider sending her children to a private school, she said.

"If she's going to be forced to make a move, why not? We're very unhappy about it," Freeman said.

Williamsport parent Wilmer Lankford said in a press release that the possible school shift would uproot the schedules of those who live in rural areas.

"We rural people have to do a lot of driving and adjusting our schedules to try to accommodate any change," Lankford said. "It will be an upheaval, not just an inconvenience, for many of these families."

Parents have also claimed the School Board didn't spend enough time considering the proposals or giving citizens - particularly those in the Williamsport, Boonsboro and Smithsburg areas - enough time to voice their concerns.

The Blue Ribbon Redistricting Committee, which was created by the School Board, came up with the proposals the board is considering. The committee, however, turned down the proposals dealing with the Williamsport, Boonsboro and Smithsburg schools, which eliminated those proposals from being brought to public hearings.

The School Board decided in the beginning of January, after its public hearing, to revive the proposals the committee rejected.

"I'm very discouraged," Freeman said. "I had hoped that they would go with the BRRC's recommendations. I just can't see how the board can make a good decision on this. There was not sufficient opportunity for public feedback and comment."

School Board President Edward Forrest said the Williamsport, Boonsboro and Smithsburg proposals were discussed at meetings following the public hearings. The board has also accepted written comments from the public.

Last week, the School Board voted to wait two years to send Boonsboro High School students to Smithsburg High School, on the condition that it's necessary and space is available. The remaining Williamsport and Boonsboro proposals would go into effect next school year.

"It's always difficult to communicate 110 percent to the public," Forrest said. "I think the board has gone the extra mile to get that info out there."

School Board member Roxanne Ober said she has received more than 200 e-mails, telephone calls and other correspondence from concerned residents and that she's read every one.

"I certainly have taken their views into consideration," she said.

Forrest also said Tuesday's meeting will allow 45 minutes for public comment. Anyone interested in speaking can sign up before the meeting or call the superintendent's office at 301-766-2815.

Carmen Bundick, who has a daughter at a Boonsboro school, said she hopes the two-year provision on sending Boonsboro students to Smithsburg holds up Tuesday.

"I want them to continue to wait the two years," Bundick said.

She said she thinks Smithsburg would become overcrowded if it receives additional students.

Freeman, who has attended past meetings on redistricting, said she doesn't think she will attend the final vote on Tuesday.

"I don't have a lot of confidence in our elected officials," Freeman said. "Today I don't feel like I have the energy to do it again. I'm just ready to start redirecting my energy to finding a solution for my daughter."

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