The Redistricting and School Closure Committee accepted its draft of suggestions with all but two members in attendance Thursday night after months of meetings.
But while the draft was discussed and accepted in a public meeting, RSCC would not provide a copy of the draft to the public or the Carroll County Times prior to the official presentation to the Board of Education set for Sept. 12.
Carroll County Public Schools said the document was a draft and would not release it to the public, citing Discretionary Exceptions in the Maryland Public Information Act laws.
“The process has been completely transparent. Meetings have been open to the public and citizens have had the opportunity to observe the deliberations of the committee,” CCPS said in a statement. “The only things we are not releasing is the draft report until it is in its final version. This avoids multiple variations of the report being circulated and confusing the public.”
CCPS spokeswoman Carey Gaddis said via text message that both Superintendent Steven Lockard and Assistant Superintendent of Administration Jon O’Neal supported not releasing the draft report.
“Under Subtitle 3, Part IV, a custodian may deny the right of inspection to certain records or parts of records, but only if disclosure would be contrary to the ‘public interest’ … Whether disclosure would be ‘contrary to the public interest’ under these exceptions is in the custodian’s ‘sound discretion,’ to be exercised ‘only after careful consideration is given to the public interest involved …’ ” the discretionary exception portion reads. “In making this determination, the custodian must carefully balance the possible consequences of disclosure against the public interest in favor of disclosure.”
The Times filed a Public Information Act request with the school system Friday morning.
“It simply would be unfair to members of this committee” to release the report, the committee’s paid facilitator, David Lever, said in an interview Friday morning. Lever is the former executive director of a nonpartisan state agency.
He said the committee needs to see the final report before it’s released to the public, adding that it’s an “unfinished product.” As a matter of “due diligence,” Lever said he did not want to release the report.
“It’s not ready to be released at this point,” he added.
RSCC — which is made up of five parents; two members of the business community; one member of county government; two CCPS employee group representatives; three members of the CCPS staff; and Lever — has been meeting typically twice a month since March. Parent Robert McCarthy and Sean McKillop, the UniServ director for the Carroll Association of School Employees, did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
The final meeting lasted about an hour, and included the committee going through the draft to make any final changes before the presentation next month.
During the Aug. 9 meeting, the top suggestions the RSCC was considering were: a kindergarten through eighth-grade replacement facility; a full modernization of East Middle School; limited improvements to East Middle while retaining the existing facility; comprehensive redistricting without a school closure; and accepting existing facility configuration, with improvement with individual programmatic spaces.
Because the committee and CCPS would not provide the draft recommendations, it is unclear if these were still the final five possibilities, though it was discussed at Thursday’s meeting that the top suggestion is a new K-8 facility.
Michael Hardesty, Carroll County Public Schools director of transportation, said with that being the No. 1 option, redistricting may need to be part of that plan depending on where the facility is built, to which Rosemary Kitzinger, a parent of a Runnymede Elementary School student who was nominated by the Special Education Citizens’ Advisory Committee, agreed.
“Obviously if we moved out of the East [Middle School] complex, I’d assume there’d be some level of redistricting,” she said.
Hardesty said they can’t really justify redistricting on its own, but with a K-8 school, it needs to be looked at as a possibility.
Lever, in an interview with the Times, said he thought the overall process of the committee went well, and that the committee itself was “wonderful.” The group had diversity in its voices and perspectives, he said, and people were able to bring their own concerns in to discuss.
While the committee’s name almost implied suggestions that came out from the group would include school closures and redistricting, RSCC looked at facilities in general, instead of through the lens of redistricting and closures, Lever said.
“The process evolved through discussion and that we took a broader view and that emerged by itself,” he said.
And, he added, there is one option that discusses redistricting, though it is not the top suggestion.
“The kind of inescapable fact is that here is a condition of facility that needs to be improved,” Lever said. “That isn’t going to happen through either closure or redistricting.”
The prime example, he said, is East Middle — there’s no way to avoid that kind of investment.
Lever also said the school system seems to be at a point of inflection right now in terms of enrollment. There are no clear trend lines, he said, and it’s “unknown what’s going to happen.”
“It would be a mistake to make a decision now that may back the board into [a] corner [in] let’s say seven years, 10 years — and I’ve seen this happen — and say, ‘Why did we close that school? We need it,’ ” Lever added.