The option of grandfathering dominated Wednesday night's discussion by the Frederick County Board of Education regarding the Linganore, Oakdale, Urbana (LOU) redistricting study.
Board members wanted to reach a consensus on whether grandfathering would be considered for incoming fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders — meaning that those students would have the option of staying in their current feeder pattern rather than moving to a new school under the superintendent’s proposed redistricting plan.
Under Superintendent Terry Alban’s current plan, only incoming juniors and seniors for the 2020-2021 school year would be allowed to remain at their current high schools.
The topic of grandfathering for other “senior-level” grades had been brought up by community members at three public hearings on redistricting that were held by the school board over the past week.
Paul Lebo, chief operating officer for FCPS, was involved in the discussion Wednesday night. He pointed out that while Board of Education policy states grandfathering of fifth- and eighth-graders should be considered in redistricting, significant concerns had arisen when FCPS staff originally discussed this.
He explained that allowing students to be grandfathered in, particularly at the elementary level, could lead to disproportionate class sizes at the two new elementary schools: Blue Heron and Sugarloaf, which are slated to open over the next two years.
“If Blue Heron only opened with 10 fifth-graders, the impact that would have ... we felt like it could be problematic for staffing,” Lebo said.
Alban agreed, saying that it is impossible to predict how many families would choose to be grandfathered in, as they would have to provide their own transportation for their children to remain at their current schools.
“Could we do it? We could, but the challenge will be if we get 40 students who say they’re going [to stay] and 10 students who say they can’t and how that will work for those 10 students,” Alban said.
She further explained that if the school board decided to move forward with grandfathering, families would have about two weeks after the board votes on the plan to decide whether they want to be grandfathered in.
This two-week period is due to a budgeting deadline for next school year that would need to be met.
Lebo said it’s a little easier at the middle school level, as only 45 students could be grandfathered in, and that would have little effect on the capacity of the middle schools.
At the high school level, it becomes somewhat difficult again.
According to Lebo, 55 incoming 10th-graders would be affected, a majority of which would move from Urbana High to Linganore High under the proposed plan. If all current freshmen at Urbana High decided to stay for their sophomore year, it would put the high school at about 100 students over capacity, thus requiring more portables.
A new portable costs about $100,000, according to Lebo, and the number of extra portables needed at Urbana High would be unknown until families have decided whether or not they wanted to be grandfathered.
“There are a lot of variables we would have to look at once we knew exactly how many students wanted to stay and what that impact would be,” Lebo said.
Board member Karen Yoho said she was concerned about this factor.
“The cost of portables stops me in my tracks. To me, that’s a big consideration,” Yoho said.
Board member Joy Schaefer agreed, saying that money could be used instead to replace old portables, such as those at Monocacy Elementary School.
“I'm inclined to do this, but ... there are portables out there that are in dire need of replacement that we have kids in,” Schaefer said.
Alban said that other district priorities might need to be dropped in order to find the money to fund new portables at Urbana High if incoming 10th-graders were given the option of being grandfathered in.
In the end, the board came to a consensus on possibly allowing incoming eighth- and 10th-graders to be grandfathered in, but not incoming fifth-graders.
FCPS staff will gather more data on the impact of this potential grandfathering and present it to the school board before they take a final vote in October.
Other topics discussed were the “Linganore island” residents who are being moved from Urbana High to Linganore High.
Those residents, who primarily live in planning blocks 34, 35 and 39, which lie directly south of Md. 80 near Kemptown Elementary, had voiced concern that their neighborhoods would be cut off from the rest of their community and that Linganore High was farther away than Urbana High.
Lebo said if those planning blocks were to remain in the Urbana High feeder pattern, it would have a long-term impact on enrollment numbers at all school levels.
The issue surrounding residents in planning block 54 who were suddenly renamed and moved into planning block 187 under the superintendent’s plan was also addressed.
This area sits south of U.S. 40 and is made up of the Tall Oaks, Lee Hill and Merricks neighborhoods in Monrovia.
Lebo said staff made it clear throughout the process that the superintendent's recommendation might include aspects that were not present in the options originally presented by Cropper GIS, a consulting firm.
“We were very clear that the recommendation would include the best parts of [plans] A and B and additional data,” Lebo said.
A quick fix was also made to Hungerford Manor Court which is split in half under Alban’s plan, with two houses going to Twin Ridge Elementary School and two going to Green Valley Elementary School.
Lebo said staff will change the boundaries to make it so that all four houses are attending Twin Ridge Elementary.
All requests made by the board at Wednesday's meeting will be worked on by FCPS staff and then re-presented at the Oct. 16 meeting, before a final vote on the redistricting plan is taken.
Schaefer said she does not think the board will request any more changes or issues to be considered before the next meeting, adding that for her, “it’s all about the long term.”