With early voting underway and Election Day on Nov. 6, the Carroll County Times reached out to the candidates running for the Board of Education to see where they stand on key issues facing Carroll County Public Schools.
Six candidates are running for three seats on the Board of Education.
Bob Lord, the current school board president, is the only incumbent running. County Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, is also running for a spot. The other four candidates are Patricia Ann Dorsey, a retired elementary school principal; Tara Battaglia, a parent and community activist; Kenneth Kiler, an executive at a construction company and founder of the Manchester Wrestling program; and Mary Kowalski, a former CCPS employee and current citizen activist.
What are your thoughts on the Redistricting and School Closure Committee’s report? Specifically, what do you think should be done to address East Middle School, and what are your thoughts on alternate grade configurations?
I am thankful for the RSCC recommendations, particularly the K-8. This is nothing new. This was presented by the MGT in 2013 as a solution for Charles Carroll, William Winchester and East Middle. The K-8 can be built on the grounds of East Middle with little disruption to the students currently at East Middle. This is a long-term solution to two schools that are in need. We need to keep communities together which was the goal of the MGT and the RSCC. It was once approved by the state with $13.4 million promised. The K-8 can be built as two schools in one where kindergarten students would never interact with an 8th grade student. It can be built effectively to accommodate the students and their communities.
Patricia Ann Dorsey:
The Redistricting and School Closure Committee presented a comprehensive report to the Board of Education in September 2018. I agree with the findings of the report. Westminster East Middle School surfaced as the highest priority facility for capital renewal. The building systems are past their useful life: HVAC, roof, electrical, fire alarm, and windows and the building itself is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Secondly, the report found that there are no current compelling reasons for redistricting or closing schools in our county and thirdly, our facilities have been underfunded. Even though East Middle surfaced as the highest priority facility, we can’t lose sight of the needs of all Carroll County Public School facilities.
At the October 2018 Board of Education meeting, the current Board received Superintendent Lockard’s three recommendations with an accompanying comprehensive rationale for each one based on the report of the Redistricting and School Closure Committee. The recommendations are scheduled for approval by the current Board at the November 2018 meeting. I agree that a feasibility study, as recommended by the superintendent, is needed to determine the best option for East Middle School. I would recommend keeping Grades 6-8, the current grade configuration, at East Middle School and using the information from the feasibility study to help set direction for the best option for East Middle.
The Redistricting and School Closure Committee was an impressive group of people that worked very hard. Unfortunately, they had an impossible task because the direction from the Board of Education was not clear, specific or actionable. This is clearly a difficult issue and one that is tough for the community. Issues like these require leadership, resolve and honesty with the community. This is not what we got from the current Board of Education.
The instructions to the RSCC were vague. They established no priority for the work and no options to be considered. The time frame for the analysis (5 years) is too short, and the purpose of the study was not clear. As a result, and not surprisingly, the conclusion was to do nothing. Then, it was decided to ignore the subject again for 5 years. I do not understand this at all.
The focus of the Board of Education should be about student achievement, teacher compensation and learning, and less about the building in which that learning occurs. There is an impact on education when money is wasted on buildings, maintenance and other expenses that could go to teachers, behavioral specialists and classroom support.
East Middle, West Middle and William Winchester should be replaced with a K-8 building. The committee should then be used to look for another future opportunity to consolidate three schools into a new K-8. The long-term savings in consolidation will offset much of the costs of the new facilities and long-term maintenance costs.
The first priority in all school decisions is student achievement. As long as we do not violate that, we need to look at each school’s population, condition, and location. We need to predict our future student population. That population appears to be stabilizing. We also need to look at our history and not repeat poor decisions.
Our current RSCC was made up of some very good members and an excellent facilitator. I’m not sure they were given proper direction and were definitely not transparent. Maybe the task was just too much for a committee to address in this short period of time. Something must be done with East Middle. In the words of the committee — the condition of East Middle is an unavoidable driver of all planning concerns. That hasn’t changed in three years. How can we close three schools with no net savings to the taxpayer and in three years expect $80 million to $100 million for an aging school we left open. Almost anything that we now do with East Middle will impact the students, possibly beyond the Westminster area.
We need to take a breath, look at the RSCC’s information and consider all options in a deliberate manner. The current Board and superintendent appear to be doing that. It will not be easy.
I have reviewed the Committee’s report, attended various meetings and asked numerous questions. In addition, I have been following the East Middle School issue for years. I don’t wish to criticize the committee members or facilitator. However, the statistics in the report appear to be skewed. In 2016, twisted statistics were responsible for the closure of New Windsor Middle, which was only 20 years old and North Carroll High, which was in good condition. Therefore, we need to be very careful that statistics do not push out common sense again.
Repairs to many of our schools have been postponed due to “budget shortfalls.” New roofs and an HVAC system are now finally being installed in other schools. I believe we should get these repairs done to East Middle as well. I see no reason why East Middle should be passed over for the same repairs that other schools are receiving. The repairs could be phased-in over time. This would mean that we would not need to do either a full-blown modernization nor build a new K-8 school, where alternate grade configurations would be an issue.
When the Board of Education chose to close schools two years ago, they were aware that East Middle needed repairs. Yet, they chose to close New Windsor Middle, which was only 20 years old, as opposed to East Middle. Poor decision-making is a big issue facing our school system today. We cannot turn the clock back, but we must start making better decisions for the future.
The Redistricting and School Closure Committee worked extremely hard, looked at many options, and produced a very detailed report. I encourage any one with interest to read the report in its entirety.
The Carroll County Board of Education examined alternate grade configurations at our February 22, 2017 work session. The end result was that schools were built for the student age groups they currently hold, and changes to the current configuration would be extremely costly.