Things are beginning to get serious on the subject of facility closures and redistricting in our county school system. The committee assigned the task of making recommendations to the school board on these matters has made its members' preliminary thoughts known with two major suggestions. I am presuming that you are a regular reader and are at least minimally familiar with the two options so far presented. The first option would close Charles Carroll Elementary with some minimal changes to the districts. The second, and more drastic, would close five schools including North Carroll High School, three elementaries and one middle school along with a major redistricting across the county.

The community surrounding Charles Carroll has for quite some time been pleading with the school board for improvements to the building and grounds in an attempt to keep this anchor of the community a viable resource. Still, it seems destined for closure no matter which option is chosen. More recently a major rally was held in Hampstead in support of keeping North Carroll High a viable hub of academics as well as a social and economic asset for the town. People in Mount Airy are becoming more vocal about the possible closing of their elementary school as proposed in the more drastic of the two options presented to the school board so far. The communities of the other schools mentioned in the recommendations are beginning to ramp up the volume on their concerns also.

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As to redistricting, any closures will naturally ripple throughout the entire system. The numbers of students affected will depend on the number, location and level of the schools closed. Closing one or two elementary schools will cause a bit less disruption overall than the closing of a high school since those draw students from several feeder schools over a wider geographic area. Because of declining school-age populations, some closures and the resultant changes in district boundaries are probably necessary but the locations of those closures need to be carefully studied not only for the population changes but for the overall effect that such a closure would have on other areas of life in those areas. Among the questions to be asked would be: Is the building and grounds used extensively for extracurricular activities by groups other than those sponsored by the school? What are the economic ramifications for the surrounding community in the event of a closure? How would a redistricting proposal affect the transportation of students? Would travel times be significantly increased? As a parent, that last question could be the determining factor in whether I would support or vigorously oppose such a proposal.

I completely understand the financial difficulties the school board is dealing with, caused in part by the unfunded mandates by the state legislature and Gov. Larry Hogan's failure to distribute to the counties funds that were included in the current budget. That being as it is, the Board of Education and Superintendent Stephen H. Guthrie need to be absolutely sure their final decisions are completely thought-out and are absolutely the best and most workable solutions for the long-term. It will be very expensive and cause even more community uproar if in three to five years the need arises to re-open one or more of the schools closed in this go around. I'm also not so sure that the decision has to be made as quickly as is tentatively scheduled and I do believe that the appointed committee should have included several parent leaders and some other community leaders or business people.

As a parent whose children are long graduated from the system, I remain peripherally interested in the goings-on at the school system's headquarters, and as such I would encourage the Board of Education to carefully study each of the proposals that will eventually be presented. I would also encourage the parents of every student in the system to become as informed on this subject as they can be and if you develop a strong opinion on any of the proposals as they become available, voice your feelings in a loud and clear voice, but remember that interrupting speakers or shouting down those with differing opinions at a board meeting or hearing or rally won't gain your side any supporters. Please be civil and courteous to all who express an opinion; it's possible that their argument might just change your mind.

Bill Kennedy writes every other Monday from Taneytown. E-mail him at wlkennedyiii@verizon.net.

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