After months of meetings, the Redistricting and School Closure Committee presented its long-anticipated report, which was met with concern from some and praise from others in a meeting that at times grew tense and impassioned.
David Lever, the committee’s paid facilitator, presented the report at Wednesday night’s Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education meeting.
And despite the committee’s name, RSCC concluded, per the report’s executive summary, that while there is a “pressing need to find efficiencies,” that neither comprehensive redistricting nor school closures are “warranted” at this time.
“The compelling rationales for undertaking these actions do not currently exist, and the operational savings that might be realized are uncertain,” the executive summary of the report reads.
“There are significant potential detriments to these actions, including their impact on student educational careers, on communities, on student ride times, and not least, the loss of flexibility at a time when there are promising signs that the student enrollment of Carroll County Public Schools may increase and facility capacity will be needed in the future.”
The three main takeaways, according to the executive summary, are that the condition of East Middle School is an “unavoidable driver of all planning concerns”; there are currently no “extreme inequities” in physical condition or utilization in CCPS facilities to suggest comprehensive redistricting is needed; and at this time, no school has been assessed to be “harmful or dangerous to its occupants,” and while closure could help financially in terms of reduction of utilities and maintenance, there would be significant detriment.
But those takeaways, Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, who sits as a nonvoting ex-officio member on the school board, are not new information.
“I feel like you were given an impossible task,” Howard said, adding that he felt that the school board did not provide enough direction for RSCC to come up with “meaningful results” that weren’t already known.
Howard also said that when county leaders look at the growth that has happened in Carroll, and where it is occurring, and also look at the designated growth areas, it’s clear that the county is already overgrown in areas and that it’s expected to grow more.
Howard said he didn’t understand how it would not be a benefit to look at redistricting and build capacity where it will eventually be needed.
But many board members, including Marsha Herbert and Devon Rothschild, took issue with those comments.
Rothschild said if East Middle School fails, there are more than 700 students with no place to go.
“That becomes a significant problem,” she said, adding “something has to be done about East Middle.”
Rothschild said Charles Carroll Elementary School failed because nothing was done in terms of fixing the problems with the building, and that school had to be closed. And, Rothschild said, the prior school board went to the commissioners and asked for a K-8 facility.
“Your board voted 5-0 not to do that,” she said.
Rothschild said the decision to build a K-8 was the Boundary Adjustment Committee’s top recommendation, RSCC’s number one suggestion and also an option members of the school board have voiced support for.
“This needs to become a priority. I don’t know what you expect to happen,” Rothschild said, adding that it is “very irresponsible” for commissioners not to do something about East Middle.
RSCC concluded that the most important needs for the CCPS system are in upgrading facilities to “contemporary standards of building performance and educational suitability.” The focus of three of the five planning options involve East Middle School.
The first option, according to the executive summary, is a new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade facility that would replace both William Winchester Elementary School and East Middle School. The second is to fully modernize — meaning a replacement or complete renovation of — East Middle. The third is to retain the existing school facility with limited improvements.
The fourth option does suggest 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 is to accept existing facility configurations with improvements to “individual programmatic spaces.”
Superintendent Steven Lockard said both he and the school board will need time to digest the information presented Wednesday night, and said his goal is to come back with a possible recommendation to the Board of Education in October.
Lever also said he wants the public to be able to provide feedback and said once the report is posted on the school’s website after the meeting, there will be a way to provide comments. The public can also send emails with feedback, he said.
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Additionally, Lever said, there has been preliminary discussion about a public forum for feedback on the RSCC report, potentially at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 in Winters Mill High School.