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More school boundaries could change

December 29, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Less than two years after about 1,000 students were affected by redistricting in Washington County Public Schools, more boundary changes could be on the way.

School Board members will meet in January with the facilities and enrollment advisory committee to discuss possible redistricting changes.

"Everything is on the table," Board Member Donna Brightman said. "Including countywide redistricting."

The committee will meet and return to the seven-member board with recommendations, but Deputy Superintendent Boyd Michael said the deadline for a decision has not yet been set.

"Really, right now we're really open to any suggestion," Board of Education President Wayne D. Ridenour said. "We don't want to look at any particular school."

The last time the school board voted to redistrict school attendance zones was before the opening of three new elementary schools in August.

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The school system's next major building project that would affect school enrollment is Eastern Primary School, which is scheduled to be built near the current Eastern Elementary School and will enroll about 670 students in prekindergarten through second grade.

The school was scheduled to open in 2011, but Ridenour said that might have been pushed back.

Rockland Woods

During a public business meeting earlier this month, some school board members discussed a need to take advantage of empty seats at Rockland Woods Elementary School, which opened in August.

"Right now, I mean, we're sitting on 235 seats of excess capacity at Rockland Woods," School Board Member W. Edward Forrest said.

The school was built for up to 735 students, but enrolls only about 500.

"To me, Rockland Woods is something that needs to be addressed," he said. "It's just a shame that amount of space is there."

Forrest said countywide redistricting might not be necessary, and that officials should plan for the school system's long-term needs while also providing immediate relief for many of the county's overcrowded schools.

"We definitely need to take a look at underutilized space and see what can be done," Forrest said.

Ridenour said that while he is concerned about the number of empty seats at Rockland Woods, he believes that if the economy improves and building resumes in the Westfields development, where Rockland Woods was built, the school will fill quickly. There are several other neighboring developments that also have permits to build homes, Ridenour said.

He said Rockland Woods would be the first school affected if home construction resumes in Washington County.

Community involvement

School Board Vice President Ruth Anne Callaham said she would like the facilities and enrollment advisory committee to come up with creative ideas and "take full license and look at how children are moved about the county ... suggest a more innovative way to do it."

School Board Member Justin M. Hartings said he would prefer to study redistricting countywide, instead of targeting particular schools.

Callaham said this will not be the last time that redistricting occurs in Washington County.

"This issue will be out in front of us for a long time," Callaham said.

She said there are ways to make the process easier and less contentious than the one experienced in 2007. That includes informing people early and often about possible redistricting changes, Callaham said.

Hartings said he supports a "bottom up" approach to redistricting that involves a lot of community input throughout the process.

Brightman agreed and said she'd also like to give the facilities and enrollment advisory committee more responsibility in guiding the decision-making.

"Redistricting is never easy," Hartings said. "But I think if we can engage in a process that has a lot of community involvement, then I think the (committee) can come up with some recommendations that best reflect community interest and the best use of community resources."

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