A public meeting will be held Wednesday to gain community input on the proposed 2015-2024 Education Facilities Master Plan, which includes the closure of Charles Carroll Elementary School.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Charles I. Ecker Boardroom at the Board of Education office, located at 125 North Court Street in Westminster, where Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie's staff will present the report and solicit feedback from the public.
Recommendations in the master plan include the closure of Charles Carroll Elementary after the 2015-16 school year, concerning parents and community members who see the school as the anchor of the Silver Run community. According to the facilities master plan, the physical condition of the school, built in 1929, is rated as poor, along with William Winchester Elementary and Westminster East Middle.
The proposed plan also calls for the development of options for William Winchester Elementary and East Middle if modernizations are not funded for the schools, in addition to the replacement of the Carroll County Career and Technology Center beginning in fiscal year 2019, a project that was included in the Capital Improvement Program.
Guthrie said that if the Board of Education approves the Facilities Master Plan without a project for Charles Carroll, the redistricting committee will be directed to redistrict students from that school to others. Guthrie said his recommendation will be to close the school for two reasons: because there are no funding projects to support a consolidated K-8 school or the renovation of Charles Carroll; and because enrollment is declining across the county, he said.
Guthrie said that according to enrollment projects, the student population will decline to about 23,000 students in 2024-25 from a peak of about 30,000 in 2005.
"As enrollment declines, revenue declines. So we have to take a look at the number of facilities that we have and respond accordingly," Guthrie said.
A redistricting committee has been formed and will submit their report in September, Guthrie said. "This is the first school in this situation — this is the first school that would fall under those recommendations," Guthrie said.
Ashley Barber, president of the Charles Carroll PTA, said many community members will be at the meeting to fight for their school to stay open.
"We have quite a bit of the community attending, and we have [many] speakers lined up," Barber said.
Derek Ludlow, a resident of the Silver Run community with his wife Rachel Ludlow and 3-year-old daughter, is among those concerned about the possible closure of Charles Carroll.
Ludlow works as a community sports and partnerships manager for the Howard County Department of Recreation & Parks, while his wife works as an art teacher for Howard County Public Schools. They decided to withstand the long commute because Rachel, who went to Charles Carroll, liked what the small, tight-knit rural community has to offer, including the small elementary school with small class sizes, Ludlow said.
"Now they're trying to take that away from us. My issue has been, and has been for years now, the lack of investing in the county," Ludlow said. "I just feel like we're stuck between two municipalities — Taneytown and [Hampstead and Manchester], and we're just that forgotten bunch off [Md.] 97 — we're that forgotten thoroughfare to southern Pennsylvania."
Ludlow acknowledged the school is declining in enrollment. According to enrollment numbers in the facilities master plan, the school has a state-rated capacity for 320 students but had 271 students enrolled in fall 2014.
Enrollment numbers are declining across the county, resulting in less state funding for Carroll public schools.
But he made the argument that people don't want to move to the area because of uncertainty about whether the school will still be there.
"Who would move there, who would want to move into the Silver Run, Union Mills area when everything is a 20-25 minute drive?" Ludlow said. "The one thing we did have was our local community school, a community center, playground, tennis court — pulling that away is just further out on an island within Carroll."
Ludlow acknowledged that the school needs to be repaired but said leaving the building and an about-13-acre property vacant would be a detriment to the community.
He supported a plan to build a consolidated school for kindergarten through eighth grade that would have cost about $72 million. However, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted not to include funding for the school in the 2017-2021 Capital Improvement Plan.
In a 2012 feasibility study of Charles Carroll prepared by Hord Coplan Macht, it was estimated that a modernization or replacement of the school would cost about $20 million. If the school closed, it would save about $750,000 per year in the operating budget and the school system would also save on the cost of building a replacement school, Christopher Hartlove, chief financial officer for CCPS, wrote in an email.
Said Guthrie: "I know that community has a long history with that school. My job is to make recommendations to the Board of Education that make sure that our school system runs efficiently and effectively with taxpayer dollars. We have schools all over the county, and I can't use that emotional argument as a reason to keep a school open."
Jason Sidock, president of the Charles Carroll Rec Council, said the organization, which offers baseball, outdoor soccer, indoor soccer and basketball, draws participants from Charles Carroll and other nearby schools. He's concerned that the rec council won't survive if the school closes because students will be bussed farther away.
"My belief and the rec council's belief is we're going to see boys and girls lose out," Sidock said, adding that they will be coming home from school much later, hindering their ability to participate in recreation programs.
Guthrie said at the Board of Education's most recent meeting that if the plan is approved, he will make sure no student at Charles Carroll has a longer bus ride than any other student.
Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, who serves as president of the board of commissioners, said he would support other ways to use the facility should the school be closed — for example, a community center or a library.
Ludlow said he hopes the school will at the very least remain some type of community center.
"If you've got young children in the area and young families in the area, everybody deserves the opportunity to participate and recreate and be leisurely in their own ways. To make that just a run-down 13 acres of property and building is sad," Ludlow said.
Carroll County Breaking News
If you go
What: Public meeting on proposed 2015-2024 Education Facilities Master Plan
When: Wednesday, May 20 at 7 p.m.
Where: Charles I. Ecker Boardroom at the Board of Education offices, 125 North Court Street in Westminster
More info: The proposed plan is available on the CCPS website at carrollk12.org under "Featured News." Feedback can be submitted online at feedback.carrollk12.org or by U.S. mail to the Superintendent's Office, Carroll County Public Schools, 125 North Court Street, Westminster, MD 21157. The plan will be presented to the Board of Education for approval at their monthly meeting Wednesday, June 10 at 4 p.m.