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Final draft of consolidation confuses parents

February 13, 2001|By TARA REILLY

Final draft of consolidation confuses parents



The committee studying school consolidation presented its final report to the Washington County Board of Education and County Commissioners Tuesday afternoon, but parents who attended said they left confused and more worried that consolidations would harm the quality of education.

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"I think it raised our blood pressure more," said Jenny Belliotti, president of the Washington County Council of PTAs. "I don't think it was very helpful."

About 25 parents attended the meeting.

The Facilities Review Committee had been studying possible consolidation scenarios for about a year. It claims it could save about $1.6 million a year by consolidating and closing several elementary schools.

County Commissioners William Wivell and John Schnebly; School Board members Mary Wilfong and J. Herbert Hardin; and Board of Education administrators Dennis McGee and William McKinley are on the committee.

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The report considers consolidating Cascade and Smithsburg elementary; Winter Street and Salem Avenue elementary; Conococheague and Maugansville elementary; and Emma K. Doub, Fountain Rock and Funkstown elementary schools.

Cascade, Winter Street, Conococheague, Maugansville and Funkstown elementary schools would close under the plan. An $11 million school would be built near Cearfoss for Conococheague and Maugansville students.

Enrollment at the consolidated school would be between 450-600 students.

McGee, the School Board's director of facilities management, gave much of the presentation, using charts and statistics to illustrate committee findings. Schnebly discussed the background of the report.

"What is all comes down to, of course, is money," McGee said.

The 57-page report was presented in an hour with no public comment.

Some parents said they had a hard time keeping up with the amount of information presented and wished they had time before the meeting to review the report.

"I was lost," said Cascade Elementary parent Karl Weissenbach. "It was done so quickly you don't know what was being said."

Belliotti said she wants to set up a public dialogue and invite the public, the County Commissioners, School Board and the Facilities Review Committee. Weissenbach said he wants to set up a community meeting.

Weissenbach, and others in Cascade, fear closing the school there would be a financial blow to the community, deterring business and residential growth.

"My main concern still is, at what point do the County Commissioners take into consideration the external factors that aren't in the report?" Weissenbach said.

PenMar Development Corp., which plans to redevelop Fort Ritchie into a business park, took a stand on the matter.

"PenMar Development Corp. strongly supports the Cascade community efforts to preserve the operation of the Cascade Elementary School," said Jim LaFleur, PenMar executive director.

"I pretty much understand that the board is looking to save money, but I don't think the bottom line is money," said Teresa Crowl, president of the Conococheague Elementary PTA. "We need to focus on the quality of education."

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