Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Editorial: North Carroll charter school worth exploring, but not a sure thing

Commissioner Doug Howard, one of six candidates for three seats on the Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education, held a hastily called meeting Monday night to discuss a new plan for the future of the North Carroll High School building, suggesting it house a charter school.

The suggestion isn’t a new one. Members of the community who vehemently opposed the closure of North Carroll a few years back had suggested it, but it was rejected by elected officials at the time. So what’s changed?


Well, for starters, Howard’s run for school board may be a factor, although to be fair, he has regularly pushed for ideas during his time on the Board of County Commissioners to address the many financial problems facing the school system. It’s also become clear that, because of zoning controlled by the Town of Hampstead, county government is having a more difficult time unloading North Carroll than previously expected. Finally, the U.S. Department of Education announced plans to provide Maryland with $17.2 million over five years to support and grow the state’s charter schools.

Howard also seems to be hoping that, because public charter schools still fall under the public school system, any home-schooled or private schooled students whose parents would instead send them to the charter school would cause an increase in enrollment and, ergo, a bump in state funding, which is largely based on enrollment. The failure in that logic, however, is that charter schools still cost taxpayer dollars to run. While they operate independently the rest of the public schools, charter schools are still publicly funded; employees are still considered public school system employees and charter schools, unlike private schools, are not allowed to charge tuition to students.


Beyond that, it’s not as simple as a group of parents getting together, forming a nonprofit, signing a few forms then — voila! — charter school. In recent years, at least two groups have approached the Board of Education seeking its necessary approval to form a public charter school.

The nonprofit Carroll Montessori Public Charter School received BOE approval in July 2014, but by the following year, abandoned efforts for myriad reasons — including a lack of interest. A year after approval, just 25 students had signed up, not enough to move forward.

The Montessori group spent several years refining its application, including being rejected in 2013, before finally receiving the green light from the BOE. More recently, officials from Silver Oak Academy in Middleburg planned to propose a charter school for Carroll, but pulled the request in anticipation of a denial from the BOE, with plans to try again next year.

We’re not opposed to a public charter school in Carroll County. In fact, we think it would be welcomed by many county residents. But the process to opening a charter school is not a simple one, nor should it be expected to result in a windfall of funding for county schools — if anything, the opposite may be true, particularly if significant repairs must be made to the North Carroll building.

If a group is willing to put in the time to explore the option of a public charter school, we would certainly encourage doing so. However, it should be clear that there is no guarantee and a charter school should not be viewed as panacea for North Carroll, and the county should continue to examine all possibilities for its future use.