Carroll schools superintendent recommends feasibility study on three committee suggestions

Emily Chappell
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times

The Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education will potentially move forward next month with a feasibility study looking at three of the five recommendations brought forth from the Redistricting and School Closure Committee last month.

The board discussed the matter — though took no vote, instead waiting to make a decision in the November board meeting — after Superintendent Steve Lockard brought forth his three specific recommendations on the committee’s report at the Wednesday, Oct. 10, school board meeting.

Lockard’s first, and most immediate recommendation, was to immediately commission a feasibility study using one-time fund balance money if necessary. The study is expected to cost about $100,000, and the target date for the final result is April 2019.

“I’m keenly aware of the impact that the prior school closures had,” Lockard said.

But, he said, his plan was to look forward at future decisions, and not consider the “should haves.”

Lockard said the feasibility study would be a technical analysis that would provide necessary to make informed decisions moving forward. And, he said, it would not be a wasted expenditure, because this type of study is a part of the state process for construction.

His recommendations were mostly met with full support. BOE Vice President Donna Sivigny said she supported the ideas, though added a few changes she’d like to see.

The only major disagreement came between the board and Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, who was sitting on the board as an ex officio, nonvoting member.

Rothschicld said when the first round of closures happened, commissioners made clear the number on issue to be considered for closure was schools at the end of their useful life. Instead, he said, the school board kept East Middle School open and closed New Windsor Middle School.

“We closed a school that was in perfectly good condition,” Rothschild said.

Information that led to recommendation

Lockard’s recommendation comes after RSCC came back with a list of five possible planning options at the September school board meeting, after the committee met throughout the spring and summer months.

Despite the committee’s name, RSCC did not recommend any immediate closures or redistricting. Per the report’s executive summary, while there is a “pressing need to find efficiencies,” neither comprehensive redistricting nor school closures are “warranted” at this time.

Instead, three of the five options focus on East Middle School. The first option, according to the executive summary, was a new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade facility that would replace both William Winchester Elementary and East Middle schools. The second was to fully modernize — meaning a replacement or complete renovation of — East Middle. The third was to retain the existing school facility with limited improvements.

The fourth option suggested comprehensive redistricting without a school closure, according to the executive summary, but cautions that it must be “warranted by clear gains in factors to be defined by the Board of Education, including balancing school utilizations, improving feeder patterns, improving educational opportunities, improving budgetary efficiencies, improving ride times, and/or other factors.” The final option was to accept existing facility configurations with improvements to “individual programmatic spaces.”

Push back from commissioners on the committee’s results is not new: During the September school board meeting, and in a Board of County Commissioners meeting the following day, commissioners expressed anger and frustration over the recommendations.

The commissioners felt the school system should redistrict, and some said they wouldn’t fund the replacement for East Middle School.

Lockard’s second recommendation was for the BOE to declare an end to any consideration for additional school closures for at least the first five years of the next enrollment projections report and analysis, unless a school closure is part of a replacement modernization project. The third is to have the school board convene a committee in 2023 to evaluate school boundaries.

Rothschild expressed concern over taking school closures off the table for the time being, in case enrollment begins to decline again.

Lockard said because enrollment has leveled off, and shows potential growth in the future, he felt comfortable with that recommendation.

Board reaction

Each of the board members took time Wednesday to express their thoughts on Lockard’s recommendations.

Sivigny took time as well to express her thoughts on RSCC and the process taken, after saying she was “uncharacteristically quiet” during the September meeting when the options were presented.

Sivigny said when she joined the school board, she wanted to bring her financial skillset to the BOE. The first round of closures were undertaken to achieve cost saving she said, but the public felt the process was not transparent, and in the most recent round, wanted to a public committee, something Sivigny said she wasn’t a big fan of originally.

She also said she tried to drive parameters for the committee and was unsuccessful.

“The parameters were what they were,” she added.

The entire purpose of the committee was to find cost savings, but despite RSCC’s name, she said, the committee instead recommended spending more money.

“What I must conclude ... is that the community has no appetite for further future closures or redistricting efforts,” she said.

With that, Sivigny said, she did support Lockard’s recommendations, though brought up a few additions, like making sure the feasibility study looks at the least expensive options to keep East Middle going.

Sivigny said with a Career and Technology plan in the works as well, she doesn’t “see a line of sight for doing both of these in the near future.”

Sivigny also said they should look at options where the K-8 facility is not extremely large as a one-to-one replacement for the number of kids in both East Middle and William Winchester Elementary schools.

Board member Devon Rothschild said she supported Lockard’s plans, and spoke out about redistricting or school closures for the sake of doing them.

“This is not kicking the can down the road. This is making a decision,” Devon Rothschild said, later adding, “Countywide redistricting for the sake of countywide redistricting saves zero dollars … you’d just be moving kids to move kids.”

She also spoke about the need to take care of school buildings, an issue board members Marsha Herbert and Virginia Harrison also spoke about.

“Our schools are getting old,” Herbert said.

Harrison spoke about the importance of taking care of the buildings they had, and said East Middle has been on the list for years for improvements.

The county cannot continue to neglect the school buildings, Harrison added.

School board President Bob Lord said he fully supported Lockard’s recommendations, adding that committee after committee has come back with the same conclusion — a K-8 facility.

“We’ve gotten the answer. Three times,” he said,” later adding, “If the county can support it, great. If it can’t, it’s still our need.”

emily.chappell@carrollcountytimes.com

443-805-9691

twitter.com/EmilyChappell13

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