Carroll to research school closings, redistricting following facilities report

The Carroll County Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to have staff begin researching the feasibility of building a combined elementary and middle school, and redistricting students throughout the county.

Based upon a comprehensive facilities study from Washington state based MGT of America, Superintendent Steve Guthrie introduced his recommendations on how the school system should move forward in finding the best way to utilize its facilities.

As recommended by Guthrie, the school board will include a proposal in its 2014-2023 Educational Facilities Master Plan to merge Charles Carroll and William Winchester elementary schools while including East Middle School in the same facility.

“By taking this out of the book of MGT and putting it in your educational facilities master plan, it allows staff to go out and seek input from the community,” Guthrie said.

The school board also approved a recommendation that will have school staff investigate the feasibility of redistricting students throughout the county in a two-year process

But Guthrie clarified Wednesday that he has not yet endorsed either of these measures.

“I can’t endorse anything until I know more about each one of these things,” he said.

MGT of America presented its report to the Board of Education in December following a six-month long facilities study, which cost the school system $88,000. The purpose of the report was to help staff decide whether they should close, combine or restructure schools and programs throughout the county.

MGT officials specifically highlighted the condition issues of Charles Carroll, built in 1929, and William Winchester, built in 1962.

"It absolutely is a high priority," Guthrie said of Charles Carroll in an interview Tuesday. "Charles Carroll is operating on dramatically aging systems. Most of the mechanical systems in that school have outlived their useful life."

By building a new school, instead of modernizing the three aging buildings, the school system would be reducing its operating and capital budgets needed to maintain three schools, Guthrie said.

With the Board of Education’s approval, school staff will soon begin to research the feasibility of such a project, including finding an appropriate location. There is no timetable on when such a project would begin.

Modernization projects of Charles Carroll, William Winchester, and East Middle are included in the current Educational Facilities Master Plan, but none have even been allocated funding to begin the planning process.

Guthrie acknowledged that potential sites are available within the current attendance boundary of the three schools for a joint campus, but said he wasn't sure if any would be acceptable.

MGT's report pointed out the unbalanced enrollment figures at schools around the county, while referring to the current feeder pattern maps as a "spaghetti map."

To address this issue, school staff will investigate the feasibility of adjusting attendance boundary lines around the county beginning with nine schools in the northern end of the county in 2014.

Possible adjustments include:

• Align the North Carroll High School attendance zone with the Shiloh Middle School attendance zone.

• Align the Manchester Valley attendance zone with the North Carroll Middle School attendance zone.

• Expand the Manchester Valley/North Carroll Middle School zone into the current Winters Mill/East Middle/William Winchester/ Charles Carroll zones to increase Manchester Valley High School feeder pattern enrollments and decrease Winters Mill High School feeder pattern enrollments.

Then in 2015, Guthrie is recommending that the school system adjust the attendance boundaries among Eldersburg, Freedom, and Piney Ridge elementary schools to reduce enrollment at Piney Ridge.

With board approval, a committee of school staff will soon be formed to investigate all redistricting options. Public hearings will then be held throughout the fall, and the Board of Education would likely vote on the first set of redistricting proposals in November.

No students would change schools until the 2015-16 school year.

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