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Don't shut parents out of school-merger talks

January 23, 2001

Don't shut parents out of school-merger talks



In an op-ed piece that appeared in The Herald-Mail this past Sunday, Jenny Belliotti, president of the Washington County Council of PTAs, says the group studying possible school mergers has gotten a long way down the road without any input from parents - or from the school system's own committee on facilities use.

It's not too late to fix this oversight, because local government will need all the allies it can get to keep this proposal's merits from being lost in an emotional battle. In addition, a reading of the committee's draft report suggests a couple of issues that need further consideration.

In her column, Belliotti notes that up until recently, the only elementary schools considered for consolidation were Maugansville and Conococheague, both of which have maintenance-related problems. In those cases, parents, the PTAs and the Citizens Advisory Committees are aware of the plan and have been involved in the discussions.

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Not so in the other proposed mergers of Winter Street with Salem Avenue, Cascade with Smithsburg and Funkstown with Fountain Rock and Emma K. Doub. Already citizen efforts to block those mergers have begun.

In part this is because no one has sold parents on the expected benefits - sending their children to more modern facilities and the possibility that cash saved could hire more and better teachers.

What we didn't see in the draft is overwhelming evidence the group has determined the ideal size for elementary schools. Although they decided in August that the best size for elementary schools is 400 to 500 students, the draft quotes a Little Institute Report that says "an excellent educational program" can be offered in schools with enrollments between 450 and 700 students. That's a big range; surely it can be narrowed down a bit.

The report also says little about school bus travel times for merged schools and doesn't acknowledge that Cascade residents might have some legitimate concerns about wintertime travel hazards. This draft is a good starting point, but it shouldn't be the last word on this subject.

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