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Countywide school redistricting possible

January 29, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Many Washington County students likely will be changing schools by the fall of 2010 or shortly thereafter.

The Washington County Board of Education has asked a committee of parents and community leaders from across the county to present a redistricting proposal to the board.

They are expected to have a recommendation by December.

"I think the new charge we gave them is going to be for long-term redistricting, and we're probably going to wind up redistricting the whole county," School Board member William H. Staley said.

Part of any redistricting proposal will include plans to fill 620 available seats in a new Eastern Primary School scheduled to open in 2011. Construction will begin this summer on the $22.2 million school being built across from Eastern Elementary.

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During the last round of redistricting, which took effect at the start of the current school year, 17 schools were affected. This time, School Board members say, everything is on the table.

"No specific schools are mentioned," School Board President Wayne D. Ridenour said. "But it's taking a look at everything."

Deputy Superintendent Boyd Michael said unless the committee recommends something almost immediately, it is unlikely that any changes will be made before the start of the 2009-10 school year.

He said the likely scenario is that changes are implemented in the fall of 2010 or later. School attendance zone changes could come all at once or in phases spread over as many as three years, Michael said.

The committee has been asked to examine all schools in Washington County that are either under or over capacity for possible shifts. That charge includes nearly every school.

Board Vice President Ruth Anne Callaham said the board wants to fix the school overcrowding problem by looking for solutions countywide.

"We're not trying to just put Band-Aids on it," she said.

Board member Donna Brightman said asking the committee and the community for help will be part of the solution. She said some "out of the box" ideas already have been suggested, such as adding capacity at existing high schools and using existing facilities differently in order to accommodate more students.

A new Eastern Primary School scheduled to open in 2011 also will create hundreds of additional seats -- meaning that redistricting will be necessary in order to fill them.

Staley said the most students will be moved from their existing schools when Eastern Primary opens. He said there could be some smaller changes before then.

Staley said it is likely that a redistricting proposal will call for more students to be sent to Rockland Woods Elementary School. However, he said that officials should not fill the school, which could then be woefully over capacity if the housing market picks up again and additional homes are built in the neighboring Westfields housing community.

Staley predicted that in a few years Rockland Woods would be filled.

"Just like all the other schools, it's going to be overflowing," he said.

Board member Justin Hartings said he would like to have a lot of community involvement in a redistricting plan.

"Anyone can look at enrollment numbers and see where various schools are facing pressures," Hartings said. "My goal would be to look countywide ... and get good involvement from the community to develop a plan that will best utilize our resources going forward."

Brightman said that in the past she felt the School Board did not have enough community input before adopting redistricting plans.

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