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School superintendent presents boundary plan

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Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano presented his recommendations to balance school capacity utilization, provide relief to schools most impacted by crowding, and address inequities in the distribution of students affected by poverty, during a recent Howard County Board of Education meeting.

The board initiated by unanimous vote on Jan. 24, a system-wide boundary review process, prompted by significant imbalances in school capacity utilization. Currently, 32 schools (43 percent ) are outside of the target capacity utilization defined in HCPSS Policy 6010, meaning that enrollment at these schools is either below 90 percent or over 110 percent of their capacity, while the distribution of students participating in the Free and Reduced-price Meals program (FARMs) ranges from below 5 percent at some schools to up to 68 percent at others.

“This recommendation marks a turning point in how we look at attendance area adjustments. While previous boundary review processes focused more narrowly on capacity utilization, my proposal is in alignment with our Strategic Call to Action, leading with equity as our driver to provide all students with full access and opportunity to receive the best educational services and supports,” Martirano said.

The Superintendent’s proposal, which relates to school boundaries for the 2020-21 school year (SY 20-21), moves beyond the recommendations presented in the 2019 Feasibility Study, and takes into account the priorities expressed by his Attendance Area Committee (AAC), the 800 participants in four community input sessions, and 2,176 surveys and 276 alternative scenarios submitted by community members and other stakeholders.

Also considered during planning were transportation times and costs, the effective use of existing school resources, and other Policy 6010 standards. These priorities also included keeping school boundaries contiguous while maintaining neighborhood schools and walkable distances for as many students as possible.

The Superintendent’s proposal would provide for reassignment of approximately 7,396 students, including 3,194 elementary, 1,351 middle, and 2,851 high school students. Through the proposal, 53 schools are projected to be within the 90-110 percent target capacity utilization defined in policy, compared with 42 without boundary adjustments, and many of the most highly-impacted schools would see significant relief.

The proposal also advances socio-economic equity by addressing the proportion among schools of students receiving FARM program services. Through the Superintendent’s proposal, all elementary schools would have a FARM rate at or below 54 percent , and the number of elementary schools above 50 percent would be reduced by half, from 12 to 6. The 10 elementary schools with highest FARM rates would be reduced by a combined 82 percent , and 21 schools would move closer to the county average.

More information, including the Superintendent’s presentation and full report given to the Board of Education and a one-page document that details the proposal are available on the HCPSS website.

The board will hold three public hearings and seven work sessions, and is scheduled to make a final decision on any boundary line adjustments with action on Thursday, Nov. 21. A full schedule and complete information about the boundary review process is provided at www.hcpss.org/school-planning/boundary-review.

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