They're not using the dreaded "R" word quite yet. But Anne Arundel officials say they probably will have to do a modest redistricting of the county's schools next year to cope with rising enrollments.
Superintendent Carol S. Parham presented a $28 million plan this week for handling the steady growth of the county school system by building major additions to three schools and closing two elementary schools, while shifting a few hundred students from the schools they now attend to new schools.
However, Parham is putting off plans to build a long-debated high school for the booming western neighborhoods, saying it would force a much more disruptive shift of students throughout the county.
School officials said they won't even start to devise a scheme for how to reassign students among the county's "feeder" systems serving high schools until the fall, when the state releases its latest enrollment figures.
But Parham's plan, which would set some of the guidelines for any redistricting that happens next school year, will get a public hearing June 8 at 7 p.m. at the Board of Education building, at 2644 Riva Rd.
In fast-growing areas such as Anne Arundel, public schools often provide the cornerstone of a neighborhood's community life, and school systems undergo few more emotional or complex decisions than how to redistrict. Even when students are shifted gradually into another school, families often complain that neighborhoods are unjustly divided. They resent being forced to send their children to another school.
In Arundel, however, it might be necessary. A mini-baby boom and a healthy economy have caused the school population to grow 14 percent in the last decade. In the meantime, school officials have found classroom capacity shrinking, as more rooms are transformed into computer labs or taken over by the growing number of special education students.
Consultants hired by the school system last year explored several possibilities for dealing with crowding, including building schools or expanding old ones. They even looked at putting schools on year-round calendars--with groups of students attending in shifts--and rearranging all students among the existing schools.
After hearing their recommendations, Parham has chosen a plan that would require a combination of enlarging schools and redistricting.
Most of the changes would affect the western and northern parts of the county. Among the recommendations:
A 400-seat addition for North County High School.
An addition of undecided size for Northeast High School.
A 400-seat addition to Southern Middle School. Parham is recommending the school board consider an addition, which she says could be built more quickly than the new middle school that board members want to bring to south county.
Sending some or all students from Odenton Elementary or the new Piney Orchard Elementary to MacArthur Middle School rather than Arundel Middle.
Parham is also recommending the redrawing of some elementary school boundaries throughout the county, though details would not be worked out until this fall.
And she is suggesting that Chesapeake Bay Middle School be split into two separate schools on the same campus, as the property was originally designed in the mid-1970s.
The most controversial recommendation is her proposal to hold off on a new west county school to relieve crowding at Arundel High School.
Parham's staff notes that the reshuffling of students to fill a new school would reverberate throughout the county, forcing the reassignment of nearly 7,300 students over several years.
And Arundel High School already has received some relief, with the redistricting last year of two elementary schools, which will now start sending about 200 students a year for the next four years into the South River High School system instead of Arundel.
But some west county parent activists say last year's redistricting measure was simply meant as a stopgap.