School board's decisions irk some on redistricting panel

February 04, 2002

School board's decisions irk some on redistricting panel


Some members of the Blue Ribbon Redistricting Committee charged with creating recommendations to shift school enrollments have harsh words for the Washington County Board of Education after board members shot down some of the recommendations.


Others say they were satisfied with the School Board's decisions but thought it could have done more to relieve overcrowding at Eastern Elementary School.

The School Board voted last week to remove from Eastern 76 of the 118 students recommended by the committee for next school year, turning down another recommendation that would have sent the remaining 42 students to Potomac Heights Elementary School.

The School Board, instead, voted to study within the next two years whether the move would be feasible.

"They really wimped out," said committee member Meredith Fouche.

Committee member Pam Newhouse said she was disappointed that the School Board didn't follow the recommendations of the committee.


"They let the community down," Newhouse said. "Postponing a decision for two years is basically not making a decision. It will never get done. They did wimp out."

Committee Co-Chair Scott Nicewarner said it's going to be hard for the School Board to consider the same recommendation in two years.

"I think that's going to be hard for them to make simply because things are going to change in two years," he said. "If the kids are going to be moved, it would've been best to move them now."

School Board members said they turned down sending the 42 Eastern students to Potomac Heights because the move would have put Potomac Heights at 105 percent capacity.

"I think the board did the responsible thing with the Eastern Elementary situation," School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner said. "Definitely the numbers support not moving students into Potomac Heights."

Fouche, however, said Potomac Heights would be able to handle the increased enrollment, because of the difference in the size of the schools. He also said Potomac Heights would not have been overcapacity by that many students if it took in the Eastern students.

Eastern, which has a capacity of 584 students, began the school year with an enrollment of 605, according to board statistics. Wagner said Potomac Heights' current enrollment is 292 students. That school has the capacity to hold 294.

Fouche said the need to relieve overcrowding is more immediate in larger schools.

"It's not a significant impact on a school when you're only talking about 300 kids," Fouche said.

School Board member J. Herbert Hardin said he supported moving the Eastern students to Potomac Heights.

"I felt that was one of our major charges," he said of decreasing overcrowding at Eastern. "We only did two-thirds of what we could've or should've done. I believe that leaving (the Eastern) students there, we're going to have to redistrict again.

"We didn't follow through there as I thought we could have," Hardin said.

School Board President Edward Forrest said he supports the final decision of the board but said that Eastern will probably have to go through another redistricting process in a few years. He thinks the Eastern district will see a population growth, he said.

"All you have to do is drive by and see the growth that's going on," he said. "Redistricting will probably come back sooner or later."

In response to claims that the board didn't follow the recommendations of the committee, Forrest said it was up to the School Board to make the final decisions.

"I really do value the opinions and recommendations of the BRRC," Forrest said, "but it served in an advisory capacity to the board, and the board had to make the final decisions."

With the exception of not moving some of the Eastern students to Potomac Heights, committee member Angie Roberts said she was satisfied with the School Board's decisions.

"I thought what they came out with was OK," Roberts said. "I thought it was pretty fair."

Roberts said she would have supported putting a portable classroom at Potomac Heights to hold additional students.

She also said she'd be willing to serve on a future redistricting committee.

Nicewarner said he wouldn't want to serve in the hopes that new people become involved with school issues, while Newhouse said her time on the committee was wasted.

"I feel they basically completely disregarded everything the committee tried to do," Newhouse said. "I do feel that they wasted our time by asking us to serve on the committee and then not taking our recommendations. I would have to think long and hard before I would serve on a redistricting committee again."

As for Fouche, he said he would probably sit on another committee if asked.

"I'm probably dumb enough to do that," he said.

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