On September 20th the Howard County Board of Education held a 7 hour meeting…and one of the topics they took up was redistricting…and it failed in a vote of 3 to 4. Those voting in favor were: Altwerger, Valliancourt, Delmont-Small. Those voting against were: Hejeebu, Coombs, Ellis, French. Here is a video of the vote:

Back at the end of August I wrote an article “Howard County Board Seeks Public Input on Options to Relieve High School Overcrowding“. As you can see in Administrative Agenda E….that was one of the topics discussed yesterday. You can view the entire meeting (all 7 hours of it) here: https://hcpsstv.new.swagit.com/videos/17204. Many options were discussed and some of them will continue to be discussed in future meetings.
I am personally disappointed that the vote failed. According to the 2017 Feasibility Study: Howard High is at 136.8% utilization (and projected to reach 144.9% utilization by 2022), Long Reach High is at 111.8% utilization (and projected to reach 139.7% utilization by 2022) and Centennial High is at 118.3% utilization (and project to reach 136.0% utilization by 2022). Those are just a few of the schools in this county that are in desperate need of redistricting. (note – I believe those numbers have been updated in 2018…I just could not quickly find them before this article was completed.)
I have reached out to all 8 candidates for the Howard County Board of Education for their comments on this vote…here is what I received back so far:
Jen Mallo:

The current system of attendance areas is not safe, not equitable, and is financially disastrous. Comprehensive redistricting is required for the benefit of all our students before the opening of high school #13.We need to follow the Board’s own policies that balance economic considerations with socioeconomic considerations with keeping communities and neighborhoods together.We need to keep our students safe, educate them equitably, and use the millions of dollars that tax payers have already provided in our current capital infrastructure.

Chao Wu:

The current board’s narrow vote to not do redistricting shows how difficult the redistricting process can be. From my perspective, we should have an objective performance score for each redistricting scenario and  assign a weight to each criteria in School Policy 6010 before doing attendance area adjustment. At the same time, we should enhance the jumpstart program, discuss open enrollment and other alternative solutions. Some common sense should be upheld while discussing polygon move, for example, walkers should not be bused away. We should keep the community stable and keep contiguous community together. We should fill the available seats. We should give students and families choices to decide to move or not move if possible. 

Robert Miller:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide thoughts about the Board’s redistricting decision. I was surprised that the Board of Education voted (4-3) not to redistrict at the high school level for the purpose of reducing overcrowding, especially as they had indicated last year that they wanted to wait until the site for HS#13 was determined before making a decision about redistricting. Though I understand that there are many legitimate viewpoints regarding the subject of redistricting, I have been considering the matter with some regard to what I consider a tipping point. Some buildings, staffs, and situations may be able to accommodate overcrowding better than others, but I believe that eventually a tipping point is reached where the cons outweigh the pros, and safety and educational circumstances are compromised beyond a reasonable extent.

Read Full Statement Here

Anita Pandey:

Three Board members voted to consider redistricting options, suggesting that they are open to redistricting.  They were outvoted, so it appears the majority are waiting for the next Board to handle this overcrowding crisis.  I’ve proposed multiple solutions, including redistricting those that are new to the community first (vs. established communities); fighting for and securing funds for HS # 14; bringing back Votec or some designed vocational-skills-designed HS building (with more offerings than APL), and expanding existing schools instead of simply adding new trailors (aka “portables”).  This could be done over the summer of 2019 (e.g., CHS–which lends itself well to expansion out back) and we can most likely build upwards at many of our middle and high schools.  For our most crowded ESs, given height restrictions, we could consider constructing a satellite campus for Veterans, for instance, at the site of the now defunct elementary school near the Main Street court house (now a parking lot) and on the bus route to Veterans.  I would recommend filling the 700 open HS seats as soon as possible using open enrollment with transportation and preferably too a tax incentive attached to it.  This will also help diversify our high schools by leveling the income and other disparities fueled by attendance at solely-neighborhood-schools.

Danny Mackey:

I am disappointed in the Board of Education’s decision not to pursue redistricting for the upcoming school year. The continued delay in solving our county’s overcrowding crisis is a failure of leadership by the Board – the people of Howard County deserve better. Visit dannymackey.org/overcrowding-relief for more information on my plans to alleviate this problem.

Vicky Cutroneo:

I was disappointed in the failure of the Board to once again take meaningful action to address what has become a health and safety issue at two of our high schools.  Beyond the obvious issues related to overcrowding, chronic empty seats and under capacity schools are fiscally irresponsible and can diminish our ability to secure state funding for capital projects.    We have capacity (or close to it) to accommodate current enrollment, yet we must spend money to purchase, transport and maintain temporary trailers which are vulnerable to moisture intrusion/environmental issues and present student safety challenges.  I believe the enrollment imbalance has become too significant to rely on optional choices, though there were some pretty creative ideas that will be discussed further in October. I hope I am proven wrong.
Read Full Statement Here

I only reached out around noon yesterday to the candidates….so six responses (out of eight) is not bad. I am glad to see candidates engaged and interested in getting their positions on this topic out to the public.
Other candidates may have statements on their websites or social media accounts…there are links to all of the websites and social media accounts here.
Do you have thoughts about the redistricting vote? Let me know in the comments or in the comments on Facebook.
Scott E

1 COMMENT

  1. This is the right decision for SY19/20. Redistricting is extraordinarily complex and requires many months of study and discussion. I am an advocate of redistricting. In a jurisdiction with any kind of growth in student population, redistricting is inevitable. With rapid, large growth, redistricting will be necessary often, if only to account for new construction. However, if this board attempted to change attendance areas for SY19/20, the work would have been rushed and the results would have been nothing short of disastrous.
    It is too late for SY19/20, and it is almost too late for SY20/21. This board needs to start acting NOW for SY20/21. Otherwise, it will be too late for the next board to act in a meaningful and thoughtful way.

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