Finksburg community demonstrates devotion to saving Sandymount Elementary with so-called 'hug'

Hundreds of parents, students, teachers and community members surrounded Sandymount Elementary School holding hands Monday evening, giving the school a so-called 'hug.'

Hundreds of parents, students, teachers and community members surrounded Sandymount Elementary School Monday evening, holding hands so as to give the school a hug.

The event was organized to demonstrate community devotion to keeping the school open, despite a plan that calls for the closure of the school and four others in Carroll County. Attendees wore blue T-shirts that read "#teamchipper," after the school's mascot and chanted, "Save Sandymount" to draw attention to their cause.


They join communities across the county that have launched efforts to save schools slated for closure.

During the Carroll County Board of Education's Sept. 9 public meeting, a plan was presented by the Superintendent's Boundary Adjustment Committee that calls for the closure of five schools — Charles Carroll, Mount Airy and Sandymount elementary schools, New Windsor Middle School and North Carroll High School — in addition to countywide redistricting. The proposed closings and redistricting are part of a plan to address declining student enrollment, which is related to declining school revenue.

The plan calling for five schools to be closed is one of four options involving school closures and redistricting being considered by the Board of Education.

"I think initially we were all a little bit in shock," said Sandymount PTA President Janet Garman, even as music, chatter and laughter filled the school's parking lot during the hug event. "When it sunk in there was a growing level of concern; it not only affects our currently enrolled students at Sandymount — it has a greater affect on our entire community."

Garman echoed sentiments expressed by others at the event, saying closure of the school could negatively impact property values and businesses in the community.

"We are a gateway community to Carroll County... we have a lot of people that moved to this area because of the proximity to Md. 795," Garman said. "We have a lot of young families living in this area."

Tim Brunker, who has a kindergartner and third-grader at the school, said he chose to live in Finksburg because of it's geographic location which provides easy access to Baltimore.

"You'd think being near the county line and on the main road and a main way into the county, you'd want to have a school," Brunker said.

Donna Sivigny, whose two children also attend the school, said the school is the main hub of their town.

"All we really have in this town is a school, a library and a park — and a shopping center," Sivigny said. "You take this out and you're taking the out the heart of the community essentially."

Sivigny said she also believes closure of the school will impact local businesses.

Community members questioned the BAC's suggestion to close the school, which is currently operating at 86.34 percent of capacity according to the BAC report and is projected to be at 85 percent in 2024.

When the committee, tasked by the Board of Education with "developing appropriate countywide boundary line adjustment recommendations for board consideration," began looking at school closures, members began with Charles Carroll because a $20 million capital project needed for the school was not included in the school system's 2015-2024 Educational Facilities Master Plan, said Jon O'Neal, CCPS assistant superintendent of administration, who chaired the committee.

They began looking for additional elementary schools to arrive at the number of seats they thought would be appropriate to balance enrollments at the elementary level, O'Neal said.


"We ended up trying to pick schools throughout the county that had utilization room in multiple directions surrounding those schools, so that is a major reason why we picked Sandymount and Mount Airy," O'Neal said.

Sandymount Elementary began in 1935 as a stone building with three rooms, and a cafeteria and auditorium with a stage were built in 1936, according to the school's website. The school, which is currently 61,521 square feet, was renovated and received an addition in 1992. It has a condition listed as "good" in the 2015-2024 Educational Facilities Master Plan.

Under the plan students at Sandymount, located in Finksburg, would be sent to Cranberry Station, Hampstead, Mechanicsville, Robert Moton and Spring Garden elementary schools. Distances of the schools range from 5.5 to 10 miles away from Sandymount's.

Community members argued, however, that being able to easily redistrict students from the school isn't reason enough to close a school.

"I think the public is more able to buy in to a proposal that addresses a capital issue and so just saying, 'We're gonna close the school because it's easy to [move] the students' isn't enough," Garman said.

The school system estimates closing the five schools and redistricting students across the county will result in operational savings costs of approximately $7.26 million a year. The school system estimates it will also save about $9.4 million in total cost avoidance in Fiscal Year's 2017 through 2019 should it close Sandymount Elementary.

Those costs are outlined in a report from the BAC as: approximately $6 million in savings for an HVAC system replacement in FY 17 and FY 18; approximately $1.85 million in savings for a roof replacement in FY 18; and about $1.52 million in FY 19 for a kindergarten addition.

"If you look at the numbers that they're trying to put together... those numbers are not based on reality when you look at the capital improvement plan of the county — the plan that they're putting together just doesn't make sense; there are much better ways to save that money," Sivigny said.

Some parents have questioned the need for a kindergarten addition if the school system is looking to address declining countywide student enrollment.

O'Neal said in a separate email that when the state mandated full-day pre kindergarten in 2002 through the Bridge to Excellence Act, the Board of Education sought a capital program to build kindergarten rooms of proper size and accommodations. Sandymount is one of the few schools needing such improvements, O'Neal said.

According to the FY 2018-2022 Capital Improvement Program Plan request, funding for kindergarten additions are requested for Taneytown, Cranberry Station, Friendship Valley and Sandymount elementary schools.

"The BAC only listed projects from the [Board of Education's] approved capital budget.We deliberately limited ourselves to projects already approved and requested by the board.Whether it's 'necessary' or not I suppose is up to the Board going forward, but up to now the board clearly deemed it a project worthy of request," O'Neal said.

People at the event said they plan to attend the Board of Education's Wednesday meeting to make their elected officials aware of their opposition to closure of Sandymount Elementary. The Board of Education will take up school closures and redistricting at the meeting, when the public will have time to provide input.

Board of Education President Jim Doolan said during a joint meeting with the commissioners on Thursday, Oct. 8 that the board will likely make a final decision on school closures and redistricting at their November meeting after four or five different options are presented at "at least four public hearings."