- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
About 80 parents and other community members brought their concerns last week to the Mary Harrison Cultural Arts Center at Northern High School as they heard proposed plans for the redistricting of Beach Elementary School and the effect to the surrounding neighborhoods.
In addition to the Calvert County Board of Education members present, including President Eugene Karol, Vice President Kelly McConkey, Dawn Balinski, Tracy McGuire and Joe Chenelly, along with interim superintendent Nancy V. Highsmith, director of school construction George Leah Jr. and director of student services Kim Roof presented to the audience the four proposed redistricting plans.
Last year, members of the board asked Calvert County Public Schools to consider redistricting plans due to quick enrollment increases. In June, four of the five board members voted to delay the redistricting for a year to allow for more thoughtful planning and account for future growth, in an effort to ensure redistricting would not have to occur again in the immediate future.
Beach Elementary School’s state-rated capacity is 514 students, and it had 625 students enrolled in September. Student services estimates the school would grow to 200 students more than capacity — at 735 — for the 2014-2015 school year. In June, Beach Elementary principal Mike Shisler said the school was “just too crowded.”
Karol began by addressing the crowd, saying the process of redistricting is “always a problem … we hate to do this,” which seemed to be the consensus of the crowd, as well.
In September, Roof said, Highsmith asked student services to look into the overcrowding of Beach Elementary and address the geographical boundaries for Beach Elementary, Calvert Elementary, Plum Point Elementary, Windy Hill Elementary, Mt. Harmony Elementary, Sunderland Elementary and Huntingtown Elementary. A redistricting committee met on five separate occasions in October and November. Subgroups met at various times on separate occasions to work on drafting plans, taking several factors into consideration, including demographics, enrollment numbers, state-rated capacities, future construction plans for the county and the Beach communities and student transfers in and out of the schools, Roof said.
“What you will see tonight represent hours that were spent by members of the committees working in the best interest of the students,” Roof said.
The proposed plans would affect the following schools: Option 1 would move 577 students, would affect all schools except Mt. Harmony Elementary School and would not move any students out of Calvert Elementary School. Option 2 would move 353 students and affect all schools except Mt. Harmony and Huntingtown elementary schools, and without moving students out of Calvert, Sunderland or Windy Hill elementary schools. Option 3 would move 533 students and affect all schools without moving students out of Calvert or Huntingtown elementary schools. Option 4 would move 625 students and affect all schools except Calvert Elementary School, and would not move students out of Huntingtown or Plum Point elementary schools.
After a PowerPoint presentation and overview of each plan’s new district boundaries, 17 audience members made comments to the board.
Cara Johnson, representing herself and other members of the Ferry Landing Woods Civic Association, said the school many of their children attend, Mt. Harmony Elementary, is “very important to our neighborhood. … Mt. harmony is a big part of what makes our community run.” Johnson urged the board to consider option 2, which would not affect Mt. Harmony but would affect the least amount of students, and reject option 4, which would affect the largest number of students.
Eric Reinhardt, a member of the Chesapeake Beach Town Council, encouraged the board to consider option 3, which would keep Richfield Station, which houses a large section of the town, he said, at Beach Elementary. Being a part of the town is important, Reinhardt said, and those families that border the town “should be honored as best as they can.”
Jessica Valadie, a 15-year employee for the school system, supported option 1 because she said it is the only option that would keep all schools under their state-rated capacity. Valadie opposed option 2, which would give children in the Beach communities “too long of a bus ride” to Plum Point, Sunderland or Windy Hill elementary schools.
“We are four-tenths of a mile from Beach Elementary School,” Valadie said, expressing her desire for children in the Beach communities to stay at the school closest to them.
Residents Nicole and Ricky Cooksey said if options 1 or 3 are chosen, their children will not be able to transfer from their current after-care program to their new school. In addition, Nicole Cooksey asked how she was supposed to submit after-care transfer registration, due this Monday, Feb. 17, when she didn’t know what school her children would be attending.
The option that received the most applause and audience approval was an unlisted “option 5” — to build a new elementary school. Many residents said none of the proposed plans would answer the over-crowding issue completely, and the county would have to redistrict again within a few years.
As Reinhardt observed to the board, “You can’t please everyone. … No matter what you do, someone will be upset.”
Highsmith said she hopes to have a “fair and just” decision made soon and thanked the committees for their hard work and all who attended the forum and offered feedback. Balinski encouraged anyone with questions or concerns about the effect to their children to call student services at 410-535-7232.
The Geographical Attendance Area Study presented to the board Jan. 9, the Proposed School Boundary Descriptors for Beach Elementary School and the Proposed Enrollment by Address documents are available on Calvert County Public Schools’ website, www.calvertnet.k12.md.us, under Current News.
The next redistricting forum, originally scheduled for Thursday, was postponed until Wednesday, Feb. 19, at Huntingtown High School at 7 p.m., due to inclement weather.
Number of students affected in each elementary school redistricting plan