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Cascade parents told consolidation will take years

January 23, 2001

Cascade parents told consolidation will take years



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


If school consolidation plans are approved by the Washington County Board of Education, they wouldn't go into effect for at least five years, according to Washington County Board of Education members and County Commissioners who spoke at a meeting with Cascade Elementary School parents Tuesday night.

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"This will take years. This is not happening next year or the year after," School Board President J. Herbert Hardin said. "This is not a today-now situation."

All five County Commissioners, Hardin, School Board member Doris Nipps, Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett and the board's Executive Director of Support Services William McKinley attended the meeting.

About 120 Cascade residents turned out to express their concerns about a draft report that considers closing Cascade Elementary and consolidating it with Smithsburg Elementary, which is about 10 miles away. Parents want the school to remain open.

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With the closing and consolidation of Cascade included, the report states the county can save $1.6 million a year by consolidating Winter Street and Salem Avenue elementary schools; Conococheague and Maugansville elementary schools; and Funkstown, Emma K. Doub and Fountain Rock elementary schools.

Winter Street, Conococheague, Maugansville and Funkstown elementary schools would close under the plan.

Hardin is a member of the Facilities Review Committee that wrote the draft report. Board member Mary Wilfong, McKinley and Dennis McGee, the board's director of facilities management, and County Commissioners William Wivell and John Schnebly are also on the committee.

The committee has said that by consolidating schools, the county would free up money to attract and retain quality teachers.

With the exception of the proposed Maugansville and Conococheague consolidation, none of the other projects are listed in the School Board's Capital Improvement Plan for the years 2003-2007.

"Unless something drastic happens, I do not see the county changing the CIP and going in another direction," Hardin said.

Karl Weissenbach, a Cascade parent and chairman of the newly formed Save Our Community School Committee, said that regardless of when consolidation projects begin, parents should start preparing now by finding out as much information as possible and coming up with ideas to stop a possible school closing.

Weissenbach said parents wonder why talk of closing Cascade would come about when the county and state have put into place several tools for redevelopment after Fort Ritchie, the U.S. Army Base located in Cascade, closed. He said Cascade was named a Smart Growth, Priority Funding and Special Economic Development Zoning area to encourage development.

The plans of the PenMar Development Corp. to redevelop Fort Ritchie into a business park would be boosted with an elementary school in the town, according to Weissenbach.

Jim LaFleur, executive director of PenMar, was at the meeting but declined comment.

"It is our firm belief that it makes no sense for the county and state to develop and implement a sound strategic plan for the redevelopment of the area, and then turn around and sabotage that very plan by eliminating Cascade Elementary," Weissenbach said. "We believe that if our elected officials are committed to the economic revitalization of Cascade - and yes, Fort Ritchie is part of Cascade - then they will vote to keep Cascade open."

Parents are concerned that their children will spend close to an hour on the bus if Cascade Elementary closes.

"These little kids are going to be tired after spending 45 minutes to an hour on the bus," said parent Marla Schmidt. "And these new teachers that are highly paid are not going to do a bit of good."

The Facilities Review Committee will present the final report to County Commissioners and the School Board at a joint meeting on Feb. 13 at 3 p.m. at the Board of Education's central office on Commonwealth Avenue.

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