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Meeting to outline need for construction of high school in Mount Airy; Backers pledge to fight despite opposition of county education officials


Proponents of a Mount Airy high school have vowed to continue their efforts, despite the lack of support of education officials in Carroll and Frederick counties.

An informational session today will offer statistics and a rationale for building a high school in the community of 5,000 that straddles the two counties.

Mount Airy High School, which closed in 1967, was a town center that "pulled the community together and gave us a sense of pride," said Roger Rich, a town resident.

Rich has helped organize the effort to bring the school back and faces the opposition of education officials.

"This meeting is strictly for information," Rich said. "We are not asking for commitments and there will be no questions asked. We are making a presentation on the town's behalf, with the numbers and how we feel the two counties are coming together."

The proposal calls for construction of a school on town-owned property in Frederick County. Town officials and two members from each county's school board plan to attend the meeting at Mount Airy Town Hall.

"I will not be closed to them," said Ann M. Ballard, a Carroll County school board member. "I know they want to go over the facts with us, but the fact is they don't have the students to justify a high school."

The state requires 1,200 students to justify construction of a high school, which would cost about $30 million. To reach that number, Mount Airy would have to pull students from South Carroll and Frederick's Linganore high schools, neither of which is crowded. Ballard said no parents have asked her to push for a school in town.

"Would the state spend $30 million and then have schools half empty?" asked Ballard.

Jean A. Smith, president of the Frederick County Board of Education and a town resident, said she is willing to listen to the arguments, but she agreed with Ballard.

"The numbers are just not there," Smith said. "Maybe down the road, the community will grow to the point where it needs a school."

Both counties are focusing on other areas where crowding is driving school construction. Frederick has three high schools in expansion or building plans. Carroll is designing a third high school along the Liberty Road corridor and considering another in Westminster.

"We have to think of the needs of the whole county," said Smith. "It would be nice if every little town could have its own high school, but a town cannot come before the good of the county. Both of us have to build where we need to and the corner of the county is not the ideal place."

A two-county school would create logistical problems. Carroll taxpayers would have to pay tuition for Carroll students in Frederick. Families would deal with siblings on different school calendars and with different curricula.

"I would be untenable," said Smith. "People build houses in the county where they want their children to go to school."

It might not be legally possible to force Carroll children to attend a Frederick school, said Ballard. Distance could be as far as 14 miles and tuition reimbursement could be prohibitive, she said.

A spirit of financial cooperation has not existed between the two counties, she said, naming the library and the volunteer fire company as examples.

"Frederick made a one-time donation of $200,000 to the town library and contributes nothing to its operating costs, although 60 percent of the users are Frederick residents," Ballard said. "Frederick also makes no contribution to the town Fire Department or ballparks."

Opposition could also be raised by residents. Barbara Gardner, who has a child in high school and one in elementary, said a town high school presents too many obstacles.

"I like the Carroll County school system and I don't want my children going to Frederick schools," said Gardner, a town resident for 10 years. "Why would you send them to elementary and middle schools in one county and a high school in another?"

Area churches, recreation councils, the library and the two lower schools provide many centers where children and their parents can gather, she said.

"The Mount Airy Youth Athletic Associations pulls children from four counties," Gardner said. "The library has great meeting places. We don't need a school that could possibly divide our children."

The meeting is at 7: 30 p.m. at Town Hall, 110 S. Main St. Information: 410-795-6012 or 301-829- 1424.

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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