FEI is disappointed by the outcome of the November 18, 2019 straw vote conducted by the HCPSS BOE, which was 5-2 in favor of the current disruptive and harmful school attendance area adjustment proposal. Pleas from the Howard County community and members of the BOE themselves to add additional work sessions in order to ensure a fully researched and vetted final plan were ignored. This decision, which impacts thousands of our children across the County, is too important to be rushed or to be founded upon inaccurate, incomplete data. We must get it right the first time – our children’s future, and our County’s future, depends on it.
FEI and the greater Howard County community have been firm, consistent and clear in our collective opposition to the Superintendent’s plan. That plan ignored the community’s top priorities – keeping student feeds substantial, keeping communities together, and minimizing transportation/operational costs. Submitted testimony has been resounding – 100 to 1 against the plan. Successive moves made during BOE work sessions attempted to improve upon the Superintendent’s plan, but the final output was rushed. Large segments of our HoCo community were left without a voice or time to properly share community feedback and, critically, have that feedback be heard and reviewed with the full attention of each BOE member.
Throughout the HCPSS school attendance area adjustment proposal process, FEI has sought to be the voice for ALL of our County’s children. Hundreds of children and several pediatric health experts testified against the Superintendent’s redistricting plan, citing the multitude of ways the plan would harm kids – emotionally and academically. While FEI strongly supports efforts to address overcrowding with minimal student impact and improve educational equity using proven strategies, the final version of the plan up for vote does not achieve stated goals.
We are concerned that the resulting plan produces even more “microfeeds,” which directly contradicts the community stability standards in Policy 6010 – for example, avoiding feeds of less than 15% at the receiving school. Attempts by Ms. Cutroneo and Ms. Delmont-Small during the Monday work session to refocus attention on possible solutions to reduce the number microfeeds were immediately dismissed.
As a voice for integrity and in the spirit of accountability, FEI also urges the BOE to consider the significant questions being raised surrounding proposed redistricting falsely labeled under the pretense of “equity.” For example, as questioned in a recent Maryland Reporter article, FEI is concerned that developer special interests appear to have co-opted the equity agenda for their own financial benefit, using redistricting as the mechanism to allow further development around already overcrowded schools. This was born out in some of the small-feed moves that reduce “just enough” under the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) threshold to remove development moratoriums. This false narrative relies on the assumption that minimally balancing FARM rates will help disadvantaged students. To truly improve equity in our school system, we must rely on proven strategies, such as
screening for adverse childhood experiences in early childhood, extended learning opportunities, and diversification and further training of our educators. We ask the BOE to remember its board member Dr. Chao Wu’s own remark: “Don’t fall to the trap of the developers. I have been involved in community for a while. I know how strong their lobby is. More schools we open for development, more developments will follow that. It is time to say NO to them as a school board.” We urge the BOE to acknowledge and be transparent about the existence, bias and sway of special interests regarding redistricting.
FEI is also extremely concerned at the questions being raised about the validity of data regarding FARM ratios and school capacity – data which serves as the foundation for the area adjustment process…meaning countless hours of work may have been based on inaccurate data. An equally troubling remark was made by the director of transportation on Monday night, stating there is already a shortage of HCPSS bus drivers. What will happen if additional bus routes are added?
The bottom line: there are too many questions left unanswered for our Board of Education to responsibly proceed with a final plan ready by November 21.
FEI will continue to work for ALL children in Howard County. In fact, FEI was proud to join residents throughout HoCo in a protest of harmful school redistricting at the Howard County Fairgrounds on Saturday, November 15. Over 1,300 residents braved the frigid weather to show their solidarity in opposing the redistricting approach, which has been rushed, based on flawed data, and unduly influenced by special interests. The peaceful protest was a show of unity by community members, which epitomized the proud diversity of our County. Participants ranged from community members representing newly impacted polygons who have been denied their opportunity for due process to those who have been impacted by every proposal. Others in attendance were not themselves affected but joined us in concern for the approach being taken to divide our County and its communities.
We implore each BOE member to cast a final vote on Thursday, November 21 that truly reflects the collective voice of Howard County and the best interests of EVERY CHILD. A rushed plan that lacks appropriate time to evaluate EVERY polygon’s comprehensive situation is not a good plan. A plan founded on inaccurate, incomplete data is not a good plan. A plan that disrupts the lives of 5,320 children and their families, when more moves will come in just a few years, is not a good plan. FEI does not contest that our school capacity is in a dire place; but we do contest the notion that this resulting plan will deliver a long-term solution that puts our children’s best interests, mental health and wellbeing first. “Do No Harm” must remain the first priority for our children across the County.