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Westminster parents to plead for new school; Group to present arguments before commissioners tonight


It's show time tonight for a group of activist parents intent on getting a high school built in Westminster.

In a one-time-only engagement, members of the newly formed Citizens for Schools hope to persuade the county commissioners to keep the planned 2002 opening of a Westminster high school on track.

The performance is scheduled for 7: 30 p.m. in Room 003 of the county office building. It is to be a blend of facts, figures and emotion. It will seek to make the case that Westminster needs a second high school, despite a recommendation from the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission to delay it by two years.

"We really want to pack that room; we'd love to have 200 to 300 parents show up," said Susan Ullrich, co-chair of Citizens for Schools, which was formed a month ago. "We're looking at this as our one shot at having all three of the county commissioners listening to us."

The group has spent the past month preparing its presentation, researching student enrollment projections, writing letters and getting the message out to other parents. It has created a Web site and enlisted the support of Westminster city officials and several local businesses.

"I think the group is to be commended for taking on this challenge," said C. Scott Stone, a member of the county Board of Education. He said the group has a good chance of swaying the commissioners to their side and added, "I think anytime the public becomes actively involved it carries some weight with the people making the decisions."

Stone speaks from recent experience.

For years, the school board had planned to build a high school in Westminster in 2001 to alleviate crowding at the city's only high school. But a group of well-organized south Carroll parents persuaded the board to build the first new high school in their region and delay the Westminster high school by a year.

"We don't want to leave it to chance this time," said Robin Kable, who argued in 1997 against switching the locations of the county's next high schools. "We did it before, and we lost our high school to south Carroll."

Westminster parents have put together an inch-thick information packet to present to the county commissioners tonight. It contains school enrollment numbers, letters from parents and students, and research on projected growth in the Westminster area.

Leading members of Citizens for Schools plan to speak, and the group plans to show a videotape of Westminster High School to give the commissioners a better idea of the crowding there. The school, which has 2,360 students this year and a capacity of 2,031, is one of the largest high schools in the metropolitan area.

Westminster High School Principal Sherri-Le Bream has provided Citizens for Schools with information on how crowding has affected instruction and on changes in the role of the high school over the past 20 years.

In 1978, Westminster High had approximately the same number of students as it has today. But the teaching staff numbered 103, com- pared with 135 today.

"Class sizes are smaller, but we're trying to educate all children," said Bream, referring to special education students, programs for students with behavioral problems and a greatly expanded career development program.

"We're to the point where we're probably not serving the students as well as we could if we had a smaller school," said Bream, who noted that she would like to offer more music courses but can't because of a lack of space.

"You really lose a sense of belonging when you're part of a structure where very few people know you or recognize you," she said.

County school officials project that Westminster High will have 2,592 students by 2002 and 2,707 by 2004. By contrast, the school board decided last year that any high school in the county should be built with a capacity of 1,200 students.

"If other students are allowed to attend school in optimum conditions, why aren't Westminster students given the same opportunities?" Bream asked.

The county commissioners will make their final decision on whether to include planning and design money for the new Westminster high school in May, when they vote on the county's capital budget for fiscal 2000 after public hearings.

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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