The public will get a first look at Harford County Public Schools’ draft plan for countywide elementary school redistricting on Wednesday, Nov. 10, when the draft will be posted on the school system’s Web site.
The move comes after parents requested an immediate public release of the plan, which would redraw elementary school attendance boundaries countywide. The draft, which is subject to modification, will not be finalized until it is approved by the school board in March.
The school system has been planning to redistrict elementary school students for more than a year in hopes of balancing enrollment among elementary schools and filling the new Red Pump Elementary School in Bel Air. The new attendance boundaries, expected to affect all 32 elementary schools, will take effect for the 2011-12 school year.
Focus groups have been formed at each elementary school, comprised of a school administrator and parent volunteers, in an effort by HCPS to involve parents in the redistricting process. Last year, focus group members recommended parameters to guide the Superintendent’s Technical Advisory Committee, or STAC, as the group drew up the proposal for new attendance boundaries.
At an October school board meeting, Joseph P. Licata, chief of administration for HCPS and chairman of STAC, announced that regional meetings would be held November 8 to 10 to present focus group members with the draft prepared by STAC.
While not open to the public, Licata said that the regional focus group meetings would be videotaped and posted on the HCPS Web site after the redistricting proposal was made public at a school board meeting sometime in December. In the meantime, the focus groups at each school were to gather community input on the draft and suggest modifications that would be considered by STAC.
Parents Call for Halt to Countywide Redistricting
At the same October school board meeting where the regional focus group meetings were announced, several parents in the Youth’s Benefit Elementary School district called for a halt to comprehensive redistricting. They asked that Red Pump be filled for the next school year, but that countywide changes be put on hold until the wider community was brought into the redistricting process.
One of those parents, Michelle Richenderfer of Fallston, said that she was organizing a growing group of parents who wanted the redistricting proposal to be made public immediately, rather than wait for the December release. Parent Vickie Ruzicka of Baldwin echoed that sentiment and later wrote an explanatory e-mail to Licata and other school officials, including Superintendent Robert M. Tomback. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication and appears below.
Following the school board meeting, HCPS issued an update to clarify the overall redistricting process. But questions remained about how focus group members would share the draft with their respective communities, when it was not being publicly released.
Responding to an inquiry from The Dagger, HCPS spokeswoman Teri Kranefeld, in consultation with Licata, wrote in an e-mail that the draft would be made public next week, an apparent reversal of an earlier decision to wait until December. Kranefeld said that focus group members would get a handout of the draft for their region, and for the county as a whole, and that the public would have access to the draft via the schools’ Web site:
We will post the DRAFT plan that is presented to the Focus Groups on the website the evening of Wednesday, November 10th, after the Focus Group Meetings have been conducted. Focus Group members will be charged with discussing the plan with their community and providing feedback to the Superintendent’s Technical Advisory Committee. The meetings will also be videotaped and posted on our website and aired on the Harford Cable Network. Parents are encouraged to provide any feedback regarding the plan by utilizing the email address that will be established and linked directly below the plan on the website once posted.
After input is gathered on the first draft, STAC may or may not, make modifications before presenting the draft to Superintendent Tomback for his approval. The superintendent’s plan will then be presented at a school board meeting sometime in December. Additional public input will be gathered, including hearings to be held sometime in January and February.
The Harford County Board of Education is expected to approve a final redistricting plan by March 2011, allowing time for logistical issues, including bus routes and the transfer of student records, to be settled before the opening of the 2011-12 school year.
Below is the text of the e-mail from Ruzicka to school officials:
Mr.Licata, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Kaufman,
My name is Vickie Ruzicka and I live in Baldwin, MD. I am the mother of two children currently attending Youth’s Benefit Elementary School.
I know I am not alone in voicing my displeasure regarding the current level of community involvement in the redistricting issue. A complete comprehensive redistricting of all elementary schools is an extensive undertaking that has never been proposed before. I believe it is naive to think a project of this scope and sequence can be completed within the same time frame it takes to redistrict a single new facility, such as Red Pump Elementary School.
In speaking with parents and community members throughout Harford County, it is clear to me that community involvement was not a priority of the redistricting committee. The quality of life enjoyed by Harford County residents is about to be torn apart through the redistricting process with little or no input from the community. Ask anyone in Harford County and you will likely hear that the LOCAL school their child attends is the very fabric, the core, of their community.
The LOCAL schools are where children grow with a sense of community and responsibility toward their neighbors. LOCAL schools are where children find continuity in their classroom, community, and activities. By comprehensive redistricting at the level suggested Monday night in our conversations, you are creating disjointed and disconnected communities that our children depend on. By taking schools and splitting them up two, three, and possibly even four ways, you are tearing apart entire childhood relationships such as Cub Scout dens and Packs, Girl Scout Troops and Communities, and recreational teams. These relationships that have been cultivated from an early age all got their start in the classrooms of the LOCAL schools the children attended.
Please know that the current situation Harford County finds itself in is not your pain to shoulder alone. The County Council and developers have done their share to create this situation. They allow growth when they know that the schools in certain areas of the county are over capacity. They encourage further growth within over capacity boundary areas by embracing Development Transfer Rights. The parents and community members of Harford County need to address this issue as well.
What we are asking from you is to table the comprehensive redistricting for now. Embrace the communities and work with us. Five parents from each elementary schools is not an accurate, comprehensive representation of our entire county. Together, as communities, we can provide a balanced plan for our children. We will be able to better accept redistricting when we are involved from the beginning and kept in the process all the way to the end. Table this action now and repair the strained relationship that has Harford County Board of Education on the opposite side of the table from community members and parents.
Below is the text of the October redistricting update posted on the HCPS Web site:
UPDATE: OCTOBER 27, 2010
The Comprehensive Elementary Redistricting Initiative is moving forward and will be on schedule for Board of Education approval by March 2011. After some complications in formulating a proposal, the Superintendent’s Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) has developed a framework to meet the intended goals of the Board of Education which are:
- Construct Red Pump ES and develop the new attendance area for the school
- Provide relief primarily to Prospect Mill ES and the adjacent schools in that region
- Provide relief to Emmorton ES and the adjacent schools in that region
- Balance enrollments in the remaining county elementary schools to 85%-90% of capacity
The Board of Education has established a process whereby the general public will have multiple opportunities to review the proposals and provide meaningful feedback to the Board in order for them to make a final decision that meets the needs and requirements of the school system and students. The process includes the development of Focus Groups in each of the 32 elementary schools. These groups, comprised of parent volunteers, will be presented with the framework and asked to elicit input and feedback from their school community members. That feedback will be provided to the STAC, which will in turn make appropriate modifications and or revisions to the proposal. The proposal will then be publically presented to the Board of Education in early December. Following the Board presentation, the Focus Group meetings will be aired on Harford Cable Network (HCN) and posted to the school system website for viewing. During the following three (3) months, the public will have the opportunity to review the details of the proposed plan and provide testimony to the Board of Education regarding their comments, suggestions, and revisions that will add value to the plan to ensure that it meets the goals of the Board of Education.
The website has been remodeled to provide accurate and timely information in a clear and concise format. By subscribing to the RSS Feed above (simply click on the RSS link above), you will be notified when new updates are posted to this site. The most recent updates will always be located within this box with a date stamp. In addition, we will send out regular email updates through our email notification system, Constant Contact. You can register your email address by using the link below. The Board of Education is committed to providing parents with accurate, timely information while affording the opportunity to contribute feedback throughout this process.