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After years of shuttering dozens of schools as enrollment declined, Baltimore city school officials recommend closing only three facilities in the next two years.

City school staff proposed the closure of Sarah M. Roach Elementary school and George W. F. McMechen High School, which serves students with significant disabilities. They also recommended that one independently operated school — NACA II Freedom and Democracy Academy — lose its license to operate and be closed at the end of the school year.

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Six other charter schools would be renewed for three or five years. And Wolf Street Academy, a high performing charter school, would be given the city’s first eight-year charter.

The recommendations came at a Nov. 12 school board meeting.

The slowdown in school closings coincides with school officials announcing that they hope to update some of the city’s most historic, but deteriorating high schools. To begin that process, the school system will conduct feasibility studies to determine what such renovations would cost.

First on the list is Frederick Douglass High School, one of the first African American high schools built in the nation. In addition, the city will look at renovating City College, Edmondson Westside and the Polytechnic Institute and Western high schools complex. City, Poly and Western have existed for more than a century.

“This is about the entire city and the legacy of a district. We have to fix this,” said Angela Alvarez, executive director of the district’s Office of New Initiatives.

“We wanted to impact as many students across as many communities as possible,” Alvarez said. "Our high schools are large and they serve more students.”

But the high schools also will be more expensive to fix than elementary and middle schools that hold fewer students.

For instance, Alvarez told the board that city schools receive about $29 million each year to fix buildings. But City College alone needs about $44 million for systemic repairs. The school system would need the legislature to provide tens of millions of dollars to renovate the high schools. If approved by the board, the city would only begin to look at the costs and feasibility of the renovations beginning in January.

School board member Andrew Frank said he is enthusiastic about the high school proposals, but encouraged the staff to look into innovative financing, including private partnerships.

As enrollment declined significantly over two decades, the city has struggled to keep up with the pace of closures needed to downsize its facilities. The system has closed 75 schools since 2004, including 30 since 2013. Only half the seats were filled in many of those schools, making them inefficient to run and diverting resources away from everything from teacher salaries to textbooks

Even as schools have closed, the school system embarked on $1 billion spending plan in 2013 to replace or renovate 28 school buildings, separate from the new proposal for aging high schools.

None of the closure recommendations will take effect unless approved by the school board. Last year, the final decision on closures was made in January. Officials consider test scores, enrollment and building condition in making the recommendations.

Students, teachers and other affected community members have pushed back in some cases, particularly on decisions affecting charter schools and schools that serve as community anchors.

Under the proposal, Sarah M. Roach, an elementary school with just 200 students, would close at the end of this school year. Students from Roach, located on Old Frederick Road in West Baltimore, would go to Mary E. Rodman, which is about two miles west and currently being renovated.

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McMechen High School, a school for 50 students with significant disabilities on Garrison Boulevard in West Baltimore, would be closed in June 2021. Those students would go to the William S. Baer School, about three miles away by car near Coppin State University or the Claremont School, which will be located in the new Patterson High School, which is under construction in East Baltimore.

And Curtis Bay Elementary/Middle School, would become an elementary school. The middle school students would go to Bay Brook Middle School, which is under construction in Cherry Hill.

NACA, a which opened in 2009, would have to close by the end of this school year. A person answering the phone at the school said the school has no comment.

The city has more than 30 charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated schools. One more has been approved to open next fall in southeast Baltimore. Of the nine charter schools up for renewal, most have received high ratings.

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