An email blast Friday afternoon gave Hampstead residents short notice of a community meeting hosted by Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, on Monday night to discuss the future of the North Carroll High School building.
And Howard’s idea, which he presented to an audience of about 30 people at the North Carroll library, is to plan a charter school at the former high school location. As of this July, there is an additional $17.2 million in federal funding available to create them in Maryland.
If residents get a nonprofit group together and fill out the grant application, Howard explained, they could be eligible for the funding. The funding would then allow them to get specialists to plan a special curriculum — one that could be rooted in civics, engineering, agriculture or the arts.
“I’ve had lots and lots of friends that home-school,” said Howard. “Some for religious reasons, or because there are things they don’t want to send their kids to be a part of, others that are in private school for reasons. But I don’t think we’ve given a credible alternative [here] others can turn to.”
The school was originally closed, along with two other county schools, at the end of the 2015-2016 school year because of declining enrollment rates. It’s been a battle ever since, with a number of proposed plans and ideas that have ranged from demolition to rezoning. Howard’s theory is create a school that offers something North Carroll High didn’t and increase enrollment rates to get more funding.
“If we put this out there and don’t get the response,” he said, “then we don’t [have to do it]. I wish it was an idea that I could say, ‘Listen, just sign here and we’ve got the answers’ — but I think at this point, when we’re talking about 6,000 or 7,000 students in Carroll County [being home-schooled or in private school], we don’t need half of them to come. We only need 5 percent to get ourselves out the gate.”
But Dawn Nee, the attorney who filed the appeal for North Carroll High School, said she already sent information to commissioners and the Board of Education about possible ways to keep North Carroll a school — including the idea to turn it into a charter school — and was met with no reply from commissioners and a “no” from the BOE.
“This is something that the groups around here have looked at, talked about,” Nee said at the meeting. “We’ve put a lot of research into some of these things and looked at different programs.
“We’ve probably done some of the discussion you want to have and can continue the discussion,” she said. “I’m also thinking: How long is the timeline for this? We’ve got to form the nonprofit, hope we get the grant — looking at issues in the school that have been brought up. … Who’s going to make those repairs?”
Upperco resident Leslie Harford, who is herself a North Carroll alum, as are her husband and children, said at the meeting that she didn’t understand how trying to propose the idea again could bring different results.
“We took [the ideas] to somebody, and they said, ‘No,’ ” she said. “Why would we as a community put something together if they are going to say no again?”
Howard said there is now a grant on their side, and that keeping the property a school can save money in renovations and undoing renovations later. There are also less stringent requirements to open a charter school.
But the key, he said, is increasing enrollment will increase state funding.
“In Maryland, the money follows the child,” he said after the meeting. “If a child comes from a private school or any other school, the money will follow them.”
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, represents the Hampstead community and was also present Monday evening. He was interested in Howard’s plan, but recognized the spontaneity of the meeting, and the need for much more work and collaboration.
“As a commissioner representing this district, I am willing to listen to any idea that could benefit the North Carroll community,” he said. “When I first learned of this meeting at 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon, I was unaware of what Commissioner Howard would propose. We, the constituents, residents and stakeholders of North Carroll recognize that deciding the future use of North Carroll High School is one that requires care and collaboration.
“More often than not, unwanted consequences have resulted from elected officials making impulsive or simplistic decisions,” he said. “Transparent government means everyone, including elected officials, being as open as possible in order to reach the best decision.
“This will not be solved from secrets presented without input from the community or other elected officials. That has never worked, and this is no different.”
Those who attended the meeting said they felt the loss of North Carroll as a high school was heartbreaking, and many raised hands when Weaver asked if they would support pursuing the charter school possibility.
“Either the future Board of Commissioners says, ‘This is going down,’ or the school board in 15 years will say to reuse it,” said resident Andy Smith. “Do we think the BOE is going to be faster? One of these will happen if we don’t decide for another use.
“I’d rather do that than a future board not commit to three years [like this one did] and say [the school is] coming down,” he said.
Even former North Carroll students who no longer live in the county attended the meeting.
Carl Brashears, a member of the North Carroll High Class of 1983, came from Fallston Monday.
“I live in Harford County, but this whole situation is breaking my heart,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to keep looking ahead and stop thinking about what was done. He did, she did — and that’s over now.
“We’ve got Black & Decker, McCormick: We’ve got a lot of big businesses that might be interested in doing something with a charter school or some kind of technical school,” said Brashears. “We need to just look forward.”