What a shame that it took the Board of County Commissioners and Carroll County Board of Education almost five months to agree to do what should've been done in the first place regarding the potential move of the school system's central office: Get together and talk about it.
At Thursday's commissioners meeting, the county commissioners criticized an idea Superintendent Stephen Guthrie brought to the school board the evening prior, to consider relocating the central office to grounds on the campus of Friendship Valley Elementary School in Westminster rather than the former North Carroll High School, where the commissioners have been making plans to move the BOE, along with a portion of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.
Education officials have argued that being located in Hampstead would put staff that regularly visit the system's 39 schools throughout the county farther from a majority of those buildings. The same would go for other staff who make daily trips to allied agencies, repair facilities and maintenance headquarters — all located in Westminster. Because mileage for those employees must be reimbursed, those longer trips, school officials have said, create a financial inefficiency at a time when the school system has been tasked — by the county commissioners, no less — to turn over every stone to find savings.
Which is the same reason why the commissioners are struggling with the idea of building a new facility for the central office when existing buildings are available — not to mention the optics of potentially closing more schools while building new office space. That's completely understandable and we're not sure that the Friendship Valley idea is the best solution either, even with some existing infrastructure in place.
But no option comes without a cost. Retrofitting North Carroll High for the BOE and sheriff's office, and potentially using some facilities there for the Department of Recreation and Parks, has upfront and ongoing costs, including, as Guthrie pointed out Thursday, a new roof and HVAC system in coming years. There's also the costs of retrofitting the Winchester building, the current home of CCPS headquarters, for the centralized sheriff's office location and the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office, which is long overdue to move out of the nearby Circuit Courthouse. And if North Carroll sits vacant, it also still costs the county money.
The school board's position that moving to Hampstead is going to cut into its operating budget when a significant funding gap already exists is also understandable.
What's been hard to wrap our head around is why it took the county commissioners until Aug. 10, exactly 22 weeks after Commissioners Richard Weaver and Doug Howard presented their proposal for the former North Carroll High, to finally agree to meet with the Board of Education and hash this thing out. Other agencies potentially affected by this — such as the state's attorney, sheriff's office and parks and rec department — should have the opportunity to weigh in, too.
Perhaps there is some common ground to be found, if either side if willing to give a little, or a truly innovative idea developed. Of course, it may now be too late. Now, time is of the essence to come up with a solution that works for all involved — if such a solution exists — but nearly half a year will have been wasted by the time the two boards finally get together in early September.