Superintendent and Commissioner on school closings provokes response

Superintendent and Commissioner on school closings provokes response
New Windsor Middle School (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

An email exchange dated Nov. 13 between Carroll County Public Schools' Superintendent Stephen Guthrie and County Commissioner Richard Rothschild revealed plans to move CCPS headquarters into a vacant New Windsor Middle School after it was shuttered in the coming year.

Some municipal officials have taken the email as evidence that the decision to close the schools was not an open and public a process as it should have been, while Guthrie said in a statement that the email is being read out of context.


Five appeals have been filed with the Maryland State Board of Education by various community groups to contest the decision. The standard of review in school closing cases requires that an appellant prove a decision by a local school board was arbitrary, unreasonable or illegal for the decision to be overturned by the state board.

Guthrie's email was sent just days after he gave his final recommendations on Nov. 11 to close three schools — North Carroll High, New Windsor Middle and Charles Carroll Elementary — before the 2016-17 school year. The Board of Education voted 4-1 in December to accept Guthrie's recommendation.

Guthrie and other school officials had maintained throughout the process that specific plans for the closed buildings had not been determined. However, in the Nov. 13 email to Rothschild he writes: "Not for release, but [our] plan is to move Central office to New Windsor. We take over a building [and] you take over the Winchester building."

The Winchester building, where CCPS central offices are currently located, is at 125 N. Court St. in Westminster, adjacent to the Carroll County District Court and the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.

The email was released as part of the closure appeals process and subsequently posted online in the closed Facebook group New Windsor Town Residents Unite by New Windsor Town Councilman Ed Smith.

Although the email exchange between Rothschild and Guthrie came after the latter's official recommendation to close three schools, the fact that it is dated before the announcement of public hearings on Nov. 15 leads Smith to believe that the decision-making process was less open than advertised.

"I think this answers the question as to whether or not things were transparent," Smith said. "Those questions have been asked time and time again, what the use of the buildings would be and how the decision came about and the answers were less than honest."

New Windsor Mayor Neal Roop said at a New Windsor Town Council meeting Monday night that he believes the emails show that the decision on which schools to close occurred before officials say it did.

"I think it was a done deal, but they can spin it," Roop said.

In Hampstead, where North Carroll High School is slated to be closed, Mayor Chris Nevin said he believes the email also demonstrates that the decision to close the three schools was made without real public input. Nevin, along with Manchester Mayor Ryan Warner, is one of the appellants in the upcoming hearings on the appeals the school closures.

"The public hearings were for show, and the process wasn't transparent and it was predetermined," Nevin said. "I think that email sort of goes to the heart of the matter."

Although Rothschild could not be reached for comment by 7:30 p.m. Monday, Guthrie said that the email is just one part of a larger discussion dating back to Sept. 9, when the Boundary Adjustment Committee published a public report making it clear that CCPS would need to relocate its central office because the Winchester building was needed by Carroll County Government.

The Boundary Adjustment Committee report can be found on the CCPS website at The possiblity of using a closed school property as the new central office location is discussed on page 44 of the report.

"What it references is we are being asked to leave our central headquarters by the Carroll County government to make room for the State's Attorney's Office that is being evicted from the court house due to the court house's need for space," Guthrie said, in a phone interview Monday. "It's completely transparent in that it was a public document way back on Sept. 9."


The email between Rothschild and Guthrie was preliminary to the decision to close the schools, Guthrie said, a decision ultimately made by the Board of Education.

"We hadn't made that decision yet, but I was certain that of the three schools, New Windsor fit the bill better than anything else because of the square footage: Charles Carroll was too small and North Carroll was too big," Guthrie said. The email was, "an internal conversation that we had, based on larger conversations that we had because the commissioners were asking me which school would be the most likely place you would want to relocate."

As the appeals of the school closure decision go before a judge — hearings on the merits of the appeal are slated to take place in Westminster beginning May 31 — Guthrie said the available material will make it clear that the decision was conducted fairly.

"People who are unhappy with the decision are going to pick and choose what pieces of information they put forth at the expense of the larger decision and all of the hundreds and hundreds of documents that are available for the appeal," he said. "The appeal is going to take its course, we're already involved in the appeal and they can make their case at the appeal."

The email exchange, with the subject line "Thought you might find this interesting" begins with Guthrie sending Rothschild a message that says "I [sic] citizen sent me this newspaper clipping. Thought you might enjoy it." It's unclear what the clipping Guthrie referenced was about.

Rothschild responded "Thanks Steve. Would-'ve. Could-'ve. Should-'ve. But now, you and I have both been vindicated… and yet, there is no joy. Nor should there be. Also, today, Neal Roop proposed closing East Middle and adding a wing to New Windsor Middle. Says it would be cheaper than eventually having to modernize EMS. … Your Thoughts? Also … If we must close New Windsor, Moving you [sic] HQ there would help keep the town alive. How serious are you about this?"

Guthrie responded, "Rich, Just talked to Doug about the same thing. I like Neal, but his plan is flawed. Also, it is three years away at a cost of at least $15 m. A roof and an HVAC at East is half that. Not for release, but out [sic] plan is to move Central office to New Windsor. We take over a building at [sic] you take over the Winchester building."

A previous version of this story was unable to link to a copy of the Boundary Adjustment Committee report due to technical difficulties associated with the Carroll County Public Schools website.

Heather Norris contributed to this article.