Editorial: Next steps after disappointing final report from schools committee

Disappointing, and perhaps obvious, are the best ways we can describe the final report put together by the Redistricting and School Closure Committee and presented at Wednesday night’s Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education meeting.

In short, when the problem the committee should’ve been trying to solve was “how do we spend less money on school buildings,” the solution the RSCC came back with was “you need to spend more money on school buildings.”


The executive summary of the RSCC’s final report acknowledges a “pressing need to find efficiencies,” and yet, the committee’s report does not include any way to achieve these through either comprehensive redistricting or school closures. “The compelling rationales for undertaking these actions do not currently exist, and the operational savings that might be realized are uncertain,” the executive summary of the report reads.

To be clear, the blame shouldn’t fall entirely at the feet of the RSCC; particularly members of the community who gave so much of their free time to be part of this committee. They were given a bit of an impossible task with a condensed schedule and a lack of expertise to do a true cost-benefit analysis of redistricting options.

However, paid facilitator David Lever, whose job was to steer this committee, should have recognized this sooner and pushed the committee not only to work faster, but also to assign CCPS staff on the committee to work on potential redistricting options from the jump. Of course, Lever made clear from the jump his belief that Carroll was behind its peers when it came to capital investment in school buildings, which is reflected in the final report.

In our opinion, the Board of Education also did not provide enough guidance up front in its parameters to make clear the expectations of the RSCC was to find operational efficiencies. Although given several school board members’ praise for the committee’s work Wednesday night, perhaps that was the point — they didn’t want a recommendation to come back that included painful school closures or redistricting that they would have to execute.

The parameters the school board gave focused on limiting disruption and focusing on educational benefits. While that is well and good, it took the focus off improving efficiency (and while there may not be educational benefits to redistricting, per se, it is not necessarily a detriment to education either).

Six months after the RSCC was put together, the county is really in no better of a position to begin solving some of these problems than it was a few years ago. School board member Devon Rothschild was correct Wednesday when she said “something has to be done about East Middle.” The RSCC report at least recognizes that an aging East Middle School is the “unavoidable driver of all planning concerns,” and its first three recommendations focus on that, with a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade facility that would replace East and William Winchester Elementary at the top of the list.

New Superintendent Steve Lockard said the BOE needs a month to digest the findings and come back with a recommendation in October. But if the BOE decides to simply put a K-8 facility as a top priority in its capital budget, it should expect to be woefully disappointed when it goes before the county commissioners to ask for funding. Commissioners Stephen Wantz and Richard Weaver, who both had schools in their districts close and will be part of the next Board of County Commissioners, won’t hear anything of building new facilities at this point.

Lockard’s recommendation should be to have school staff — or better yet, an outside consultant — look at several comprehensive redistricting options that include closing East Middle and perhaps William Winchester, with the potential for modifications at West Middle or elsewhere to increase capacity, as well as having staff price out construction costs for a K-8 school and various upgrades at East Middle.

Only when armed with a complete picture of all potential options and information will the county commissioners be able and willing to move forward with spending money on a solution.

Unfortunately, this is what many were expecting the RSCC to do. Because they did not, we’re now six months further behind the 8-ball, still without a path forward.