New district boundary proposals draw criticism

April 10, 2003, midnight | By Stephen Wertheim | 17 years, 9 months ago

Opponents accuse plans of removing Blair's wealth and failing to mitigate overcrowding

"They all stink" is how PTSA co-president Marilyn Shoenfeld characterizes five new plans for high school district boundaries in the Downcounty Consortium, slated to begin in fall 2004.

The plans will not transfer enough students out of the Blair district, said Shoenfeld, who echoed criticisms raised in last month's Silver Chips that students who will leave Blair are generally wealthier than those who will stay.

After Shoenfeld and other parents voiced concerns that five original redistricting plans would make Blair a poor "ghetto school" and would fail to relieve crowding, MCPS devised a second set of plans on Mar 12 aimed at balancing demographics among consortium schools and reducing overcrowding, according to MCPS planner Bruce Crispell.

But the new versions, Shoenfeld said, are just the "same old, same old" and fail to consider Blair's needs. "It feels like we're being walled off from the rest of the county and told to 'stick by yourself over there,'" she said.

All five of the new plans, and four of the original five, would move Forest Knolls Elementary School—which boasts the second-highest School Performance Index in the consortium and the lowest Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS) rate in the Blair district—from Blair's to Northwood's district. One of the new plans, Shoenfeld pointed out, would raise the rate of Blair-district students on FARMS from 53.5 to 60.5 percent, the highest in the consortium.

Crispell said MCPS based the plans on input from the advisory Base Area Committee. Although nine of the ten total plans call for the relocation of Forest Knolls to Northwood, he said most plans balance the loss by removing lower-income elementary schools from the Blair district. In fact, one plan would slightly lower Blair's FARMS rate, and Crispell said many others would raise the rate by only a few percentage points.

Under the plan that would raise Blair's FARMS rate to 60.5 percent, the number of students on FARMS might decrease because the consortium should reduce Blair's population, he said.

But Shoenfeld and others have doubted that the consortium will lower Blair's enrollment enough.

Yesterday, the Base Area Committee met for its final evaluation of each base area, and each school cluster's representatives presented a paper outlining the school's position to the committee. The committee will give its recommendation to Superintendent Jerry Weast on Apr 23. Weast will then deliver his recommendation to the school board in mid-May. The board will make a final decision on June 23.

Crispell indicated that Forest Knolls is almost certain to move. Because of Forest Knolls's proximity to Northwood, he said, the one plan that keeps Forest Knolls in Blair's district was met with laughter from the committee. "The community clearly thinks Forest Knolls makes more sense at Northwood," he said.

Crispell and Shoenfeld agreed that formulating boundaries that are geographically and demographically fair for all consortium schools is a tough task.

Nevertheless, Shoenfeld claimed the redistricting seems destined to hurt Blair because the Downcounty Consortium comprises generally low-income high schools: Blair, Einstein, Kennedy, Northwood and Wheaton. "If you really wanted to balance demographics in this cluster, you would not have chosen those schools for the consortium," she said.

In October, downcounty eighth graders will choose which consortium high school they want to attend. They will be guaranteed admission to a school in their base area.

For details on the base area plans, see

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Stephen Wertheim. Co-editor-in-chief Stephen Wertheim is deeply committed to reporting, even when it conflicts with such essential life activities as food consumption, sleep and viewership of Seinfeld reruns. In addition to getting carried away with writing and playing violin, Stephen thoroughly enjoys visiting and photographing spots around … More »

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