Sep. 6—Late last week, Howard County's schools superintendent presented a redistricting recommendation that aims to reduce crowding at several county high schools and reassigns students to high school 13 when it opens near Jessup in fall 2023. Several county officials, however, including Howard County Council members Liz Walsh and Opel Jones and County Executive Calvin Ball, are objecting to the impact student reassignments would have on Elkridge.
On Sept. 2, Democrats Ball and Jones released a joint letter criticizing the redistricting plan, saying it neglects years of groundwork laid for the high school 14 project.
"Specifically, we are concerned about plans to redistrict over 1,000 students currently attending Long Reach and Howard high schools and living in the greater Elkridge community several miles away to High School 13 in Jessup," wrote Ball and Jones, who represents District 2, which includes parts of Jessup and Elkridge.
Jones, Ball and Walsh are all seeking reelection this year.
In October 2020, Ball announced Troy Park as the county's preferred site for high school 14 in order to serve the Elkridge community, after the proposed school was reinserted into the Howard County Public School Systems' Long-Range Master Plan for fiscal 2022. This past June, the county also entered into an agreement to purchase the 21-acre Camp Ilchester property to provide acreage needed to satisfy state park conversion requirements for construction of high school 14 at Troy Park.
Ball and Jones said their concerns grew after Matt Sachs, of education planning firm Cooperative Strategies, presented details of the plan Thursday to the county Board of Education and stated that high school 14 "was not an immediate factor as it relates to this attendance area adjustment process."
Their letter urged Superintendent Michael Martirano to reaffirm his commitment to advance the high school 14 project in Elkridge during his presentation of the fiscal 2024 proposed capital budget at the Board of Education meeting Sept. 8.
Martirano's proposal reassigns 2,555 high school students and 46 middle school students next fall in anticipation of the opening of high school 13. The plan is based on Scenario D, one of the four redistricting scenarios presented June 9 by Cooperative Strategies as part of a feasibility study.
Walsh and others have questioned why Elkridge children should have to commute to the southeast part of Howard County instead of getting a high school built in their own community. In Martirano's plan, some high school students who live in Elkridge and attend Howard and Long Reach high schools, will be moved to high school 13, leading to a more difficult commute, according to Walsh, a Democrat, who represents District 1, which includes Elkridge.
"The community that's hardest hit by this decision to redistrict, by virtue of opening this new [high] school, is Elkridge," Walsh said. "That's not the closest community; that's not the second-closest community."
Parents who responded to the Howard County Public Schools survey on redistricting expressed similar concerns.
"As an Elkridge homeowner with three children I am disappointed all four scenarios remove Elkridge from Howard High School, a central part of our community," wrote one survey respondent. "Why is Elkridge not being treated like an integrated community? The new high school is in Jessup and is for the rapidly growing Jessup community on Route 1. Elkridge is a long drive from Jessup."
The 46 middle school students affected by the proposal would be moved from Oakland Mills to Ellicott Mills Middle School, which "would eliminate an existing low-percentage feed at Howard High School from Oakland Mills Middle," according to Sachs.
"In terms of community stability, this recommendation is a minimally impactful change compared to previous processes," Sachs said.
In Martirano's plan, high school 13, located near Mission Road and Washington Boulevard in Jessup, would directly relieve crowding at Hammond, Long Reach and Howard high schools, with the largest portion of students — about 580 — being moved from Hammond. The new high school will open with an estimated 1,658 seats for students in grades nine and 10.
The redistricting proposal now heads to the school board for deliberations and possible adjustments. As part of the process, the board will host a series of public hearings and work sessions, which can be attended in person or watched via livestream. Public hearings all begin at 7 p.m. and are scheduled for Sept. 7, 14, and Oct. 19 (if needed). Work sessions all begin at 4 p.m., and are scheduled for Sept. 21, 28; Oct. 3, 13, 27; Nov. 2 and 14.
Community members must register to testify at a public hearing and also may submit written testimony. The public may attend work sessions but not participate. Adoption of new boundaries for the 2023-24 school year must occur by Nov. 17.
Martirano encouraged all stakeholders to remain informed and engaged, emphasizing it was an exciting time for the school system.
"Mr. Josh Wasilewski has already been named principal of the new high school," he said. "I can assure you he has many school community-building activities planned and is eager and equipped to welcome his new students and their families to their beautiful, brand-new building."
More information about the redistricting process and links to the feasibility study, scenarios and maps can be found on the HCPSS website.
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