Editorial: RSCC must give some consideration to cost of East Middle recommendations

East Middle School in Westminster has long been the lynchpin to any successful redistricting and/or school closure option for Carroll County Public Schools. And after the latest meeting of the committee assigned to examine and present options on how to proceed with any potential redistricting or closures to the Board of Education in September, it seems we’re right back to where we started.

Before meeting July 26, members of the Redistricting and School Closure Committee toured East Middle. Among the existing issues there: aging infrastructure in the boiler room, problems with the HVAC system, a gym without air conditioning and moisture damage causing flooring issues in some classrooms.


Afterward, the committee met and broke down 10 options to address East Middle, assigning a numbered score based on how it would impact, positively or negatively, seven categories. Those seven criteria: functional setting for education and programs (systemwide), condition of school buildings (systemwide), operating expenses (systemwide), keeping together existing communities, feeder patterns, economic development and ride times.

While all of those are worthy of exploring and considering, the one consideration not addressed is the one that is going to matter the most: capital construction costs.

The options that ranked highest by the RSCC members were, in order, building a K-8 facility (12 points), a full modernization of East Middle (10 points) or retaining the facilities and making improvements (9 points).

Unfortunately, these were the solutions we already knew existed but were considered too expensive. The cost of running the school system given that many buildings are below capacity as enrollment has declined is what initiated discussions on redistricting and school closures to begin with. The idea was to determine how to spend less money on capital projects in order to put that funding toward things happening in the classroom, including programs for students and retaining teachers.

Out-of-the-box ideas that might’ve taken East Middle offline and redistricted Westminster area elementary schools, thereby avoiding some capital expenditures were never going to rank high given the criteria. As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Some sacrifices will have to be made if the goal is to save money through capital avoidance and capacity-based efficiencies.

When the Board of Education gave its parameters to the RSCC back in March, one of those was to present multiple options that should all include a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis.

On Thursday, the committee’s paid facilitator said such an analysis would be impossible given the time and staffing constraints of the committee, which is to present its options to the school board in September. While that probably should’ve been raised upfront when the parameters were given (the roughly six-month time frame given to the committee, largely comprised of community members who do not have the expertise to give such a detailed cost-benefit analysis, has always been a concern), common sense dictates which of those options would likely be more expensive than the others.

As the committee took a “pause” until its next meeting Aug. 9 to once again look at the options for East Middle, we’d ask that members consider adding “capital expenditures” as a criterion to their list and assign a positive or negative number to that as well before the committee finalizes its recommendations. While it won’t be an exact figure — a feasibility study will likely be needed to drill down to that level — it at least will give the BOE something else to consider when it hears the RSCC’s recommendations in a few weeks.