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Board stands behind plan to build Carroll school

The Baltimore Sun

The Carroll County school board yesterday stood behind plans for a high school in the county's northeast region.

Discussing the project at a meeting last night, board members opted to keep the school a No. 1 priority, where it is listed on the school system's capital improvement budget requests for the 2008 fiscal year. Construction is scheduled to begin in July.

"After all the meetings we've had, it seems the public doesn't understand that we're building a high school," board President Gary Bauer said, explaining why the issue was on the agenda yesterday. "This is just to let them know it's going to happen."

Board Vice President Cynthia Foley was the only one of the four members to call for a postponement.

"I personally would feel more comfortable waiting one more year to look at [enrollment] projections," Foley said. "It's a lot of money, and I do have concerns with moving ahead. ... Maybe we're moving a little too quickly."

Met with cheers from parents, the board decision comes after months of controversy and debate about the school, which district officials estimate would cost at least $71 million. It would be funded solely by the county because the area's enrollment numbers do not meet requirements for state assistance.

The northeast school had been approved after a campaign by residents more than two years ago to relieve the overcrowded North Carroll High in Hampstead. At that time, enrollment projections suggested the student population at North Carroll would continue to rise.

But more recent figures paint a different picture. Now student capacity at North Carroll is expected to drop from 128.5 percent in the 2007-2008 school year to 103.6 percent in 2016-2017, according to the school system's enrollment projections. At Westminster High, a similar decrease is expected - from 93.8 to 82.2 percent.

Concerns about the new high school's fate surged in January, when the Board of Education put off soliciting names for the building. At that time, a letter circulated in the northeast area encouraged parents to call board members and the county commissioners to express their support for the school.

Parents have challenged the district's latest enrollment projections, while also noting safety concerns with North Carroll's packed hallways and portable buildings.

More fuel was added to the fire in March, after Ted Zaleski, county director of management and budget, excluded the high school from his proposals for capital projects. Zaleski said he saw a more urgent need for an elementary and middle school in South Carroll, where facilities are also overcrowded.

But last night, parents celebrated what they consider at least a temporary victory. Several residents - many clad in North Carroll's red and black - stepped to the lectern to express their appreciation to the board for supporting the facility.

"It's the right thing to do," North Carroll parent Carmela Guthart said after the meeting, emphasizing the importance of maintaining "constructive pressure" as school and county officials move forward. "It's something that can't slip away."

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