The Board of Education met on January 2 to hear from Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell and AACPS Central Office staff on the redistricting of our schools. The goal of the meeting, according to Board President Dr. Joanna Tobin was to “most efficiently utilize available space in buildings,” and to create zones for new students of Old Mill High School West and West County Elementary School, both of which will open for the 2024-25 school year.
The plan as presented during the meeting included two phases, starting in the northern half of the county in the 2024-25 school year, then the southern half by the 2026-27 school year. This format was the source of most contention during the meeting as multiple board members expressed concern that families and clusters would be redistricted twice in a brief time.
Board member Melissa Ellis put bluntly, “Annapolis needs relief now,” and continued to share concerns throughout from herself and community members who began to reach out via email during the presentation that a two-phase implementation may not address concerns as they arise. Ms. Ellis, along with Board members Dana Schallheim, and Corine Frank acknowledged that the Old Mill, Severna Park, Arundel, and Chesapeake clusters may all be impacted multiple times throughout the process.
Board member Robert Silkworth agreed with Ms. Ellis and offered support by saying, “Whatever we decide, resources must be sent during this process to those schools where the needs are, particularly if those schools are not in the beginning phase.”
“I am a parent in this county. I’m freaking out just as much as you all are about, where will my daughter go as a part of redistricting? It’s a reality, I’m not feeling comfortable about it all,” said Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell. However, he stood with his staff in support of the two-phase implementation due to the current capacity of the system for change and the need to prioritize the opening of the new schools. He continued, “What I would want from this administration and from me as a superintendent, is just full transparency around context as to why certain lines are being drawn.”
“We have the responsibility of figuring out this redistricting in collaboration and working with our community. We have to think about the greater good of the county.”
~ Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell
Redistricting will require not only communication with families and guardians, Dr. Bedell stated but also infrastructure changes.
“We’re still trying to provide basic transportation services right now. Getting students to and from school on time,” said Acting Chief Operating Officer Matt Stanski, continuing to highlight the need for a multi-phase plan. “I cannot on top of that add on a rerouting possibly of the entire district in a year and a half to the plate of those folks right now.”
In addition to the opening of the new campuses, the other focuses of redistricting, according to the current recommended plan, include increased enrollment, changes dictated by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future such as the implementation of pre-K programs, and infrastructure improvements.
Kyle Ruef, Director of Facilities, provided information on the schools and communities that are experiencing over enrollment, mostly in the northern part of the county, and the expectation that schools in the north will continue to reach 100% capacity with the majority of development occurring there.
“There’s not a lack of courage to do it all at one time, more so to being strategic in how we go about doing it. It needs to be done and I agree with you on that. I don’t think it needs to be done all at one time.” said Dr. Bedell
“All you have to do is tour our many different high schools, and see the vast differences in space, accommodations, occupancy, and realize that has a profound impact on the equity of education that our students are receiving. We as a board would be negligent if we didn’t recognize that and begin to address it,” said Dr. Tobin reiterating a point made by Ms. Schallheim about the fact that there are many reasons why we cannot have thousands of vacant seats unless there is a very clear rationale. “We can’t have certain areas remain untouched by these decisions.”
Next, the community will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the current plan starting in February 2023 with the goal of providing a full recommendation to Superintendent Dr. Bedell by June 2023. Dr. Bedell will make his recommendation to the Board in July, with the Board taking public comment August-October, and a final vote as early as November (latest April 2024). A budget recommendation would be made as part of Dr. Bedell’s annual budget proposal in December 2023. A similar process will take place in 2025-26 for the southern redistricting if the Board chooses to move forward with a two-phase implementation, though Ms. Ellis said she would consult with Board Council on changes.
Dr. Bedell made a summary statement that encouraged conversation throughout the presentation, “We have the responsibility of figuring out this redistricting in collaboration and working with our community. We have to think about the greater good of the county.” He continued, “We know regardless of the type of pressure that’s coming our way we all are going to have to give up something in order for us to get where we want this county to go.”