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Howard County Parents Weigh in on Redistricting

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The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS)’s Board of Education has begun a series of public hearings and work sessions to solicit community input on Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano‘s proposed Attendance Area Adjustment plan.
The plan recommends redistricting 1,922 students to fill the new Elementary School #42, which will rise in Hanover, and bring 37 elementary schools below or within maximum capacity guidelines. It also recommends limited redistricting of 313 middle school students to address feeder patterns.
The next high school redistricting process will begin during the 2020–21 school year to allow time to prepare for the opening of High School #13. The current plan does, however, recommend expansion of dual enrollment options for approximately 350 students at Centennial, Howard and Long Reach high schools through JumpStart HCPSS. The initiative enables high school students to earn college credit through a partnership with Howard Community College.
The new high school is slated to open in the fall of 2022 either in Jessup or Elkridge. A final decision on location is expected by the end of this calendar year.
An overview of overcrowding problems within the school system released in October estimated that 46% of schools are currently outside the target utilization ranges defined in HCPSS Policy 6010.
“It was not done in the last five years, and it’s built exponentially,” said Martirano in an earlier interview with The Business Monthly. “If we don’t deal with it now, it will get worse.”

Concerns
Many parents recognize the need for redistricting. Much of the criticism leveled against the plan raises concern about polygon borders that divide common neighborhoods into two different schools, longer bus commutes and disruptions to educational tracks that certain students are pursuing, as well as the effects that redistricting may have on students’ social and emotional well-being.
In a form letter submitted in response to the plan, members of the Long Reach community raised concerns that redistricting would have repercussions beyond simply leveling school utilization levels, particularly in school communities composed of economically, racially and academically diverse student bodies and communities.
At Deep Run Elementary School, the loss from specific polygons “would impact stability by removing students from more stable neighborhoods [and would] negatively impact the school’s ability to provide many of the supportive programs coordinated by families and engaged school community members in these areas,” according to one submission.
“If this passes,” wrote Wilde Lake residents Sonia and Richard Bodziony, “we would have children traveling almost three times the distance away from their homes from a walking neighborhood [on] a new bus route.”
An upcoming public hearing will take place on Nov. 7, at 7 p.m., at River Hill High School, with public work sessions to be held on Nov. 9 and Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m., at the Board of Education, in Clarksville.
The board will vote on approval of the Attendance Area Adjustment Plan on Nov. 16.

TIF Repeal Fails
A bill sponsored by Howard County Councilmembers Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2) and Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) to repeal legislation authorizing the county to issue $90 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bonds was rejected by the remaining council members on Oct. 2.
Ball and Terrasa took issue with a decision by the county executive to use funds originally slated for a public parking garage to accelerate road improvements instead, after ownership of and management responsibility for the garage transferred from the county to the Howard Hughes Corp.
“I remain very concerned about this,” said Terrasa. “I believe this represents a fundamental change that makes this significantly worse for the county without assurances for Merriweather, for parking and a whole host of things. I don’t think it makes sense to allow such a fundamentally huge shift in the TIF without having it come back to us.”
Council Chair Jon Weinstein (D-Dist. 1) said he appreciated the context that Ball’s and Terassa’s legislation brought to light, arguing that the TIF was still needed, although the process was not as transparent or efficient as it could have been.
“Are the changes to the TIF consistent with the letter and intent of the legislation that the council passed last year?” Weinstein rhetorically asked. “From my own perspective, I believe it is.”
“This is not a modification, but a clarification,” said Council Member Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4). “I was pleased that it gave us an opportunity to look at the potential of directing some TIF financing to the art center project.”
Weinstein is expected to submit legislation for future consideration that would codify the county executive’s intentions with the TIF.

New Buses, Schools
Office of Transportation Administrator Clive Graham asked the council to approve a tax-exempt lease/purchase agreement for six new buses for the Regional Transit Agency (RTA)’s fleet of aging buses. The buses would be ordered in November and delivered by October 2018.
Annual payment for the new vehicles would amount to approximately $224,000 per year for 10 years. He also informed the council that seven additional buses ordered in March would be delivered in December.
According to Graham, the new buses would be used exclusively within Howard County, with a few minor exceptions for buses that ply regional routes that include Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, and the City of Laurel.
“We asked [the other jurisdictions] to participate, but they declined,” Graham said. “I’ve directed the RTA to develop a means whereby the more expensive maintenance costs of the older buses will be proportionally assigned to the other counties.”
The RTA’s fleet currently consists of 49 buses, approximately 27 of which are beyond their expected service life.
Other legislation before the county includes an update to county code to remove certain authorities granted to the county executive.
According to Howard County Emergency Management Director Ryan Miller, past updates grant the county executive the power to regulate firearms, which is a duty reserved for the state governor, and to regulate the sale of alcohol, which is reserved for the council sitting as the county’s liquor board. An amendment also adds a civil or criminal penalty for citizens who fail to obey public safety provisions during declared states of emergency.
Finally, the council is considering the HCPSS Board of Education’s $79.7 million fiscal 2019 budget request and $616 million Capital Improvement Program request.
“The fiscal 2019 budget request supports the planning, location and construction of new High School #13, scheduled opening Sept. 2022, and the completion of Elementary School #42, scheduled opening Sept. 2018,” said Bruce Gist, executive director of HCPSS Capital Planning and Operations.