School board member Devon Rothschild, in her last meeting, argued with Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, who sits on the school board as a non-voting member, after Weaver said he wouldn’t put money into aging East Middle School.
“Three years ago right in this room when they voted to make some closures and they closed a relatively new [New Windsor Middle] school and were not going to look at some others and I made this statement that I was never going to put another penny into East Middle,” Weaver said, adding “and as [one-fifth] of the commissioner vote, I’m sticking with it. So just be aware, that could be an issue, OK?”
Weaver’s comment came after the Redistricting and School Closure Committee, following months of meetings, delivered its report to the school board in September. The report offered five potential plans, three of which dealt with East Middle, which was built in 1936.
The Carroll County school board moved forward on two key items Wednesday night, voting unanimously to move a schematic design for the Career and Technology Center and to move forward with a feasibility study in relation to the Redistricting and School Closure Committee's report.
In discussions regarding the recommendations on Wednesday, before the school board unanimously voted to move forward with them, Weaver made clear he would not support putting money into East Middle School, something Rothschild took issue with.
“You can say that, but that doesn’t change the fact that East Middle needs stuff. So I guess my response back to you is what will you do with the 700 students then? What are you going to do with the 700 students if you won’t put a dime … honestly that doesn’t even make sense because we have to put money into all of our schools to upkeep them,” Rothschild said.
“So if you’re saying you’re not going to put money into East Middle, then what does the Board of Commissioners plan to do with the 700 students that [don’t] have a school? Even if we redistrict them, we still have 75 students that don't have a place to go.”
Weaver said he asked those questions when three schools — Charles Carroll Elementary, New Windsor Middle and North Carroll High — were closed at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
Rothschild said that was a bit of “revisionist history,” and said she has five letters from the commissioners telling the school board to close multiple schools.
“Maybe you don’t appreciate the schools that we closed, however, like you said, that was three years ago,” Rothschild said. “There is nothing that can be done about that. So you’re saying your response to a failing school is to have 700 students without a school? I just want to be clear with what you’re saying.”
Weaver pushed back, and said he felt like there are alternatives that need to be looked at by the school board. The RSCC report looked at closing East Middle and found that just redistricting students would leave about 75 with no school.
Weaver said it is ultimately the school board’s decision.
“I’m just the funding source for this, that’s it,” he said. “The decisions — where you put students, how you do it ... are yours.”
But Rothschild disagreed. She said if the commissioners don’t provide funding for East Middle, it will not be the school board’s fault.
“It will be on the Board of Commissioners because we are coming forward with solutions that are going to address our facility issues,” she said. “If you don’t want to put money in, I’m sorry that’s going to be on you. That is going to be on the Board of Commissioners because we have a plan. The money is available.”
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.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the school board and CCPS school administrators discussed that county projections indicate local income tax revenue is sufficient to support projects — like renovations to East Middle — in addition to the Carroll County Career and Technology Center, which has a planned $60 million project. This money could come in at $30 to $40 million locally, although it was urged to the board that those numbers could change.
Ted Zaleski, the county’s director of management and budget, said via email Friday that the county dedicates just over 9 percent of its income tax to the school capital program.
“It can be used as cash on a project or to cover debt issued for a project,” Zaleski said. “If it's used for debt it is committed to payments for the life of the debt. How much funding is available at any time is dependent on income tax collections, the size and timing of projects and the timing of spending.”
Zaleski said this money isn’t new, and that the county has “consciously” chosen to leave flexibility in the budget because of the East Middle question, though he specified the budget office didn’t anticipate any particular project.
“That’s not where we are. New Windsor is closed,” Rothschild said, adding, “East Middle is a failing school building. If the commissioners choose not to do any funding on that building, that will fall on the commissioners, that will not fall on the Board of Education. I just want to be very clear about that. And that will be on you when we have 75 students who don't have a school to go to.”