LETTER: Calvert BOE Over-Steps Authority In Redistricting Decision

Letter To The Editor

Calvert Neighbors for Sensible Redistricting filed an injunction to a recent elementary school redistricting decision with the Maryland State Superintendent and also an appeal to the Maryland State Board of Education. Calvert Neighbors is a group of almost 100 parents from various neighborhoods throughout the County.

Approximately 725 elementary school students are being shuffled to different schools next year. The Calvert County Board of Education redistricted students in 5 elementary schools to prepare for a Barstow Elementary School which is slated to open late Fall 2008. The Calvert BOE kicked off a redistricting effort to fill the new school and address overcrowding in the surrounding school districts.

The Calvert Neighbors believe the Calvert County Public Schools is violating the law by allowing large day care centers to act as feeders into high performing public schools giving well to do families school choice. Parents can choose from a list of public schools they would like their child to attend by simply signing up for before or after school care at one of these daycare centers. Then in many cases, simply cancel the daycare but yet remain in the school. Depending upon the daycare center a parent chooses, the parent is presented an option of public schools for their children to enroll.

It just happens to turn out that many of the highest performing schools have the most feeds from nearby day care centers. Also, this creative approach to school of choice is primarily available only to those that can afford the daycare. This results in schools such as Calvert Elementary, to be down 85 students in enrollment because those that can afford to, or are creative enough to leave, do so. On any day in CCPS, there are over 500 students in an acknowledged transfer status and an unknown number using “bogus” addresses. All of this information was provided to the BOE during the public hearings and in follow up correspondence.

Mary Garvey, according to a Calvert Independent article June 16, 2004, refused to vote in 2004 redistricting because she said the redistricting principles and the transfer policy for daycares were a problem. In 2008 she is seen on the decision tape as asking for a modified plan but persuaded ultimately by Mr. Gray and Mr. Phalen, who reside near HES, to vote for plan 2.

CCPS was supposed to manage this daycare system by verification and declaring schools closed to transfer students upon reaching state rated capacity. However, for some reason schools such as PPES and HES were never closed to transfer students. This mismanagement has contributed to the over crowding. CCPS says that the over crowding is due to new home developments. Although, that is partially correct, the real answer is PPES has been closed to new subdivisions since 2001 but yet the schools enrollment continues to rise steadily.

CCPS has a policy that lists daycare as an acceptable reason for transfer to attend an out of district school. Calvert’s day care policy is in conflict with Maryland State BOE cases which have said that day care does not qualify for a transfer status since it is not a unique hardship and in fact every family has before and after school day care issues it must address.

CCPS also provides transportation, at tax payer expense, to these large after and before school daycare centers in the County. Those appealing the decision understand the need for daycare in the county. However, the current system is open to abuse and has led to schools like Plum Point Elementary to be redistricted twice since 2004, while being closed to new subdivisions since 2001. Schools like Plum Point are at 117% state rated capacity with children in learning shacks, as the Governor refers to them, while the School System continues to allow transfer students to flow in. Calvert Neighbors believe that the school system should comply with its own policies before redrawing boundary lines.

These violations were brought to the attention of the Board of Education and the Superintendent in the public hearings. It is Calvert County BOE policy not to meet with or engage in dialogue with its citizens. The two public hearings on the redistricting were one way communications where the citizen was allowed a 1 minute strictly enforced time slot to make a statement. It was so strictly enforced that projected onto the auditoriums stage was a big clock counting down the minute. At no time throughout the entire redistricting process, was the public granted the opportunity to get their questions answered.

On growth the Board determined that new growth was hard to predict because we are in a recession. The Board completely ignored the Calvert Cliffs third reactor and BRAC jobs which will spur new development. The BOE did not request any analysis or study associated with the redistricting. When using the county’s own “rules of thumb” for growth many of these same children will be back in trailers in two years and will be redistricted again in three years.

Calvert Neighbors claim that a last minute requirement for the new Elementary School to be opened at 70% capacity voided the competing plan which would have impacted 150 less students. This also violated the county’s redistricting policy’s requirement for three plans. A third plan was never put forth to the public by the BOE.

The Calvert Neighbor’s believe the redistricting was unnecessary at many of the schools because the overcrowding is due to kids that are not attending their assigned school. This unbalance is driving the county to continue to redraw the lines when it would be more prudent to simply put in place a yearly verification system, enforce the requirement to attend the school in your own boundary unless a true hardship exists, and allow for some flexibility in the system for CCPS teachers to bring their children to their school in which they are employed.

To further complicate matters the County intends to temporary house the Barstow Elementary kids in temporary facilities at Calvert Elementary and Calvert Middle while Barstow is being built. Barstow is not going to be ready until late fall and new speculation has it opening early 2009. Meanwhile, schools like PPES will have close to 80 seats inside the main building unoccupied because of the recent BOE decision to pick the plan which impacted and shuffled the most children. These 80 seats are kids that are going to be placed in the temporary facilities for 2-6 months.

A small group of Calvert Neighbors met recently with Maryland Senator Mike Miller in an attempt to try and resolve this matter outside the legal channels. Senator Miller tried very hard to get the local BOE to meet with the Calvert Neighbors. However, the Calvert BOE refused the meeting citing the pending appeal. They stuck by their policy of not meeting with anyone or group outside of the BOE meeting. Their policy states citizens can comment for up to 1 minute at any Board meeting and the Calvert BOE will not respond.

Most of these parents simply want their children put back at the school they were originally and to conduct through analysis and study before moving the boundary lines. Since the new school is not even close to being ready why rush such a very important issue?

Jim White
Huntingtown, Md.
Calvert Neighbors For Sensible Redistricting

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