The Montgomery County Board of Education has cut the number of administrative areas for the county's schools from five to three in a move that conservative school board members say will reduce costs but that many blacks claim will increase segregation.
Area A, the most contested of the areas on the new map that takes effect July 1, combines Montgomery Blair, Springbrook, Paint Branch, Sherwood, John F. Kennedy, Northwood, Albert Einstein and Wheaton high schools.
Under the present five-area grouping, four high schools with the highest minority enrollment comprise Area 2. They are Montgomery Blair, Kennedy, Northwood and Springbrook, all placed in the new Area A.
Roscoe Nix, former school board member and newly elected president of the Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP, said the school board appeared to have deliberately kept the high minority enrollment schools together, rather than using the area consolidation as an opportunity to promote racial balance in the schools.
"The NAACP has a right to be suspicious, given the conservative nature of the board," said Nix. "Following the traditional pattern of public service, when minority people are isolated, they become the ones to get less service.
"If you've got all pigeons on one side along with some sparrows and blue jays, and you have to cut the number of cages, you have a chance to get a mix. But it seems like you made a deliberate attempt to pull all the pigeons together," he said.
Superintendent Edward Andrews, in recommending that the school board adopt the three-area-plan, said that area administrative business has very little impact on what goes on in the schools. Conservative school board members say they favor fewer areas with fewer staff members because more money can be allocated for teachers and textbooks.
Each area has an office located within its boundaries and headed by an associate superintendent who is responsible for seeing that school policies and programs of study are followed. Teacher specialists and psychologists work out of the area offices.
The schools in the new Area A have total minority enrollment of 31.1 percent compared with 18.9 and 13.1 percent for the other two areas. The black students are 19.2 percent of the student population in the new Area A while black students in the other areas are 8.1 and 8.3 percent of the total.
Montgomery Blair High School has the highest minority enrollment among high schools in the county. It is followed by Northwood, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Kennedy and Springbrook.
School officials said there was no way to avoid the racial imbalance in Area A because of the large number of black, Hispanic and Asian families who live in the Takoma Park and Silver Spring region. The task force on area consolidation said it tried to keep high schools in the same area as their feeder schools and to draw boundaries for areas that would have roughly similar enrollment declines in the next decade so school closing decisions could be better coordinated.
"Some people see those lines on the map and mentally create the Great Wall of China. In fact, it's nothing more than a grouping of schools for administrative purposes," said Kenneth Muir, director of the school system's information office.
School board member Blair Ewing, who was against reducing the number of areas from five to three, said, "There are two kinds of discrimination -- those that are intended and those that result unintentionally." He said that the new division "conveys a message that this is Montgomery County's equivalent of a ghetto."
Six administrative areas were formed in 1971 and reduced to five in 1976. The move to three areas will cut total staffing in area offices from 205 to 168.