The long-anticipated release of the Redistricting and School Closure Committee’s report, which included five possible planning options, left Carroll’s Board of Commissioners — the primary funding agent for Carroll County Public Schools — expressing dismay and anger.
“The redistricting and closure committee turned out to be neither,” Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, who also sits on the school board as a nonvoting ex-officio member, said during the Thursday, Sept. 13, commissioners meeting.
Howard, echoing some of the comments he’d made the night before at the school board meeting, said while he thinks the committee worked hard, the parameters were too broad for any substantial or new recommendations to come forward.
There is outcry for the replacement or modernization of East Middle School in Westminster, he said, but no way forward to do so under financial constraints.
“That’s a little bit of a challenge,” he added.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, went further in his frustrations, and said that years ago, when CCPS was looking at schools to close, commissioners sent a unanimous letter listing priorities for schools to be selected that had as the top priority schools at the end of their economic life.
“They ignored it,” Rothschild said.
Instead, he added, CCPS closed a “perfectly good middle school in New Windsor” and chose to keep open “a piece of junk,” in reference to East Middle.
Rothschild said the commissioners need to send a message to the school board.
“No, we’re not doing it. We’re not going to fund the replacement of East Middle,” Rothschild said, raising his voice and pounding his fist on the table. “So go and do your redistricting, like you’re supposed to do, and stop passing the buck back to the taxpayers because you don’t want to make the tough political decisions.
“Redistrict, redistrict, redistrict, because we’re not going to fund the replacement of that school.”
The three main takeaways, according to the executive summary of the RSCC report, 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.
The top recommendation that came out of the report is to build a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school to replace East Middle and William Winchester Elementary, also in Westminster.
The school board had opposite reactions to the report the night before, instead praising the committee’s work. The school board asked for time to digest the information, and Superintendent Steven Lockard said his goal is to come back with a possible recommendation to the Board of Education in October.
All of the commissioners expressed frustration at Friday’s meeting, though some were more subdued. Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, and a former CCPS teacher, said Carroll County is having “tough economic times.”
Weaver also said three years ago, he presented alternatives to the school board and was dismissed. He said he then told them that he would never fund a penny to redo East Middle.
“And I meant it,” he said.
Commissioner Steven Wantz, R-District 1, said he was worried about why schools are being neglected to the point of needing to be closed.
“There are people being educated in some really old buildings. Why is it to the point that … why is it at that stage right now?” he said.
Wantz did say with new “energies” coming in, with a new superintendent and new members on the school board, there will be a chance to move forward with a “positive dialogue.”
Board of County Commissioners President Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said commissioners and the school board will need to get together after the election to figure out how to move forward.
“Because of our tight budgets, they have to be aware of what our constraints are and what our expectations are,” Frazier said.
But, he also acknowledged the poor shape of East Middle. Frazier is a part-time teacher at the school, and said there’s a maintenance van always coming to the school for repairs.
“There’s a green van outside the building every single day to fix something,” Frazier said. “And I’m not exaggerating a bit.”