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Redistricting panel seeks public input

August 11, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- A committee charged with recommending ways to redistrict schools in Washington County will hold a series of forums next month to get input from the public.

Adam Lewis, co-chairman of the Facilities & Enrollment Advisory Committee, said after a committee meeting Tuesday at the Washington County Public Schools office building that residents will be able to use the forums to give the committee advice.

"The public may be aware about certain things we're not," Lewis said. "We're just trying to find the best opportunity that affects the least amount of children. If parents have suggestions, they should put them in."

In January, the Washington County Board of Education ordered the committee to review redistricting schools countywide, according to board documents. The committee, which is comprised of parents, businesspeople and community leaders, is to submit its recommendation to the board no later than December.

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Redistricting needs to be reviewed because several schools are overcrowded, Washington County Public Schools spokesman Richard Wright said. The district currently uses about 80 portable classrooms to accommodate high volumes of students.

Wright said redistricting only would affect elementary schools.

Those schools include Boonsboro, Cascade, Conococheague, Eastern, Fountain Rock, Fountaindale, Greenbrier, Lincolnshire, Maugansville, Old Forge, Pangborn, Paramount, Potomac Heights, Rockland Woods, Salem Avenue, Sharpsburg, Williamsport and Winter Street.

Wright said the school system will send letters to inform residents about the forums.

The letters will ask, among other things, that residents keep their responses to three minutes and, if possible, provide five copies of their remarks.

The committee approved a proposal to send the letters by a 7-1 vote.

Kira Hamman, the committee's Smithsburg-area representative, cast the dissenting vote, saying the committee should use the forum to answer questions from residents.

"I think we can have a dialogue without an argument," she said. "It is very personal and a big deal to a lot of people."

Bert Iseminger, who represents the south Hagerstown area, said the committee should concentrate on gathering public input.

Other members of the committee said they believed answering questions from the public might lead to arguments that could disrupt the forums.

Lorraine O'Connor, the committee's representative for the Boonsboro area, said after the meeting Tuesday that some children -- including her 6-year-old twins -- could be affected by redistricting.

She said redistricting is necessary because overcrowding is depriving some children of a fair education.

Education isn't the only issue, O'Connor said. At Boonsboro Elementary, for example, the cafeteria, gymnasium and restrooms are too small to accommodate the student population.

Public forums scheduled



The public forums about school redistricting in Washington County will be held:

o Sept. 10, 6:30 p.m. at Smithsburg High School

o Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m. at Rockland Woods Elementary School

o Sept. 24, 6:30 p.m. at Pangborn Elementary School

People wishing to speak may register in advance by sending their name and the forum date to FEAC@wcboe.k12.md.us or by calling 301-766-8901.

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