October 23, 2018
It was standing room only. The tension was palpable. Anti-redistricting signs flew high in the air. Some wore custom t-shirts supporting their cause. Forty five people testified, some choked up, others raised their voices in anger. Students told emotional testimonies of their experiences. Things needed fixing.
Hostility was simmering at last month’s public input HCPSS Board Meeting discussing proposed redistricting solutions to overcrowding in schools as communities continue to grow.
Out of the 45 people speaking, various people accused the Board of creating a crisis. Paige Concha, an 8th grader and future Howard High School student, called for open enrollment; which was quickly followed by a standing ovation from the crowd. Mr. Cornreish, a Wilde Lake high school class of ‘86 alumnus, called for the expansion of both Centennial and Howard High Schools and demolition of the two schools in order to rebuild with expanded, larger hallways to accommodate for the growing Howard County population. Mr. Zhang, a civil engineer at the University of Maryland, College Park, called for better population forecasting and using a 4-5 year data span instead of a 2-4 year data span. Don Popp of Elkridge highlighted possible enrollment issues among major programs such as JROTC at Howard High School if plans to redistrict solely freshmen, and leave sophomores, juniors, and seniors in their original schools, goes forward and passes.
One speaker said that it’s “Groundhog Day,” referencing the 1993 movie in which a man repeats the same day over and over again until he corrects his life. This rings true considering that over the past two decades Howard County has made shockingly poor decisions regarding the long-term welfare of county students and parents. Over the last twenty years, Howard County has had only a few redistricting projects. These past projects have proven to be traumatic for the students and stressful for the parents. With this in mind, do we need to loosen our expectations of permanence of the schools assigned? There is a market for houses in select districts, and parents pay high sums of money to get their children in the best schools. A widely proposed solution is open enrollment, allowing students to attend the school of their choice. This would relieve overcrowding and allow students to go to schools farther away from the cramped eastern portion of the county.
However, a plethora of problems arise no matter what action, or lack thereof, the Board takes. Leaving the status quo makes Howard and Long Reach High School jam-packed and an increasingly dangerous ballooning student population at Atholton and Centennial High School. If no action is taken, the brand-new Hanover Hills Elementary School in the Elkridge area would become overcrowded within the first four years of
“A plethora of problems arise no matter what action, or lack thereof, the Board takes.”
This is a problem confined not only to Howard County but also to many other Washington-area districts. According to the Washington Post, Montgomery County has been adding around 2,500 students every year with an average enrollment of 1,500 per grade, which is the equivalent of adding a new high school every year. Alexandria City Schools have also felt the impact, with some schools spilling over and reaching 150% of their capacity. According to the TC Williams Theogony, an Alexandria high school newspaper, by 2026 TC Williams High School is projected be 2000 students over the recommended limit.
Over the past few years, a loosely regulated boom in apartments and urban housing around transit hubs, highways, and homes close to amenities has largely contributed to overcrowding. As the Board of Education struggles to keep up with demand for larger schools, the Howard County Council remains largely dormant on the issue. The issues that are contributing to overcrowding aren’t under the purview of the Board. If the Council and the Board don’t communicate effectively and the Board keeps voting to postpone redistricting as they did on September 11th, we’re in for another Groundhog Day.