Parents want high school finished by 2002; Group unites against recommendation of delay


They're committed, they're focused, and now they've got a name to go with their cause.

Westminster parents have officially launched a campaign to keep the planned 2002 opening of a new Westminster high school on track. They're calling themselves Citizens for Schools, and the group is determined to convince the county commissioners that the planning commission's recommendation last month to delay construction of the high school until 2004 is wrong.

About 35 parents showed up at the group's organizing meeting last week. They discussed strategies to make their case, appointed research and publicity committees and planned letter, e-mail and phone campaigns to county commissioners to get their point across.

"I think we sparked each other's energy," said Susan Ullrich, co-chair of Citizens for Schools. "Now we need to keep the momentum going."

The group has scheduled a meeting with the county commissioners at 7 p.m. Feb. 1.

In the meantime, they're making plans. Members have been instructed to bring 10 friends to the meeting, have their children write to the county commissioners and Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission, and to enlist the support of the county's legislative delegation and the business community. They're creating a newsletter for members, and a parent is designing a Citizens for Schools Web site.

Springing into action

"A little bit of parent outrage and frustration can go a long way," said Kathleen Sanner, director of school support services for Carroll schools.

Parents took action after learning that the planning commission -- in its comments on the county's proposed capital improvement plan for 2000 to 2005 -- voted to delay the new Westminster high school by two years, until 2004.

The county commissioners will make the final decision on whether to include planning and design money for the new Westminster high school in the county's capital budget. They will vote on the budget in May, after public hearings.

Planning commission members who support the delay said their decision was based in part on school officials' failure to furnish them with enrollment projections for the next 10 years. And they said a second new high school isn't necessary, with one scheduled to open in 2001 adjacent to Linton Springs Elementary School in South Carroll.

That reasoning is unacceptable to Westminster parents, who are still bitter over the school board's decision in 1997 to delay Westminster's new high school until 2002.

School officials had long planned to open the new Westminster school in 2001, but a group of well-organized South Carroll parents persuaded the board to build the first new high school in their region.

Westminster High School Principal Sherri-Le Bream stressed to parents at last week's meeting the importance of presenting a strong, united front to the county commissioners.

"We need a lot of people to show up at these meetings," she said. "I was downright embarrassed by the number of people who showed up at the Westminster meetings [in 1997].

Talk, no action

"The talk was there, but the action wasn't there, even when the school was on the line," said Bream.

Sanner assured parents that the latest enrollment projections show that the need exists for a high school in Westminster. Built for 2,000 students, Westminster High School has 2,350 pupils this year, and enrollment could be close to 3,000 by 2003. Sanner said county budget officials and school staff have worked hard to develop a feasible, affordable school construction schedule that was approved by the previous Board of County Commissioners.

"In light of that cooperation, the action of the planning and zoning commission was out of the blue and unjustified," she said.

School board President C. Scott Stone denounced the commission's recommendation, and offered parents advice on how to approach the county commissioners.

"There are, in my mind, members of the Planning and Zoning Commission who don't give a damn about schools," he said.

Looking to commissioners

Stone told parents that County Commissioner Donald I. Dell will likely support the current school construction plan, as he has in the past. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge has said she wants to study new enrollment projections, and Commissioner Robin Frazier has refused to comment on the issue.

As a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Frazier was opposed to the new Westminster high school.

"It's a matter of looking for a second vote: Is it Commissioner Gouge or Commissioner Frazier?" said Stone, who urged parents to talk to the commissioners one-on-one.

"Slowly get that commitment," he said. "A person starts to change their mind if they're relentlessly bombarded on an issue."

Pub Date: 1/10/99

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