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Meetings to be held on school consolidation plan

March 20, 2001

Meetings to be held on school consolidation plan



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education voted Tuesday morning to hold four town meetings on the possible consolidation of nine elementary schools that officials say would save $1.6 million a year.

Seven parents and students, supported by about 25 others in the audience, spoke out at the board meeting Tuesday night against the proposal to consolidate.

The Facilities Review Committee, initiated by the Washington County Commissioners, studied possible consolidation scenarios for about a year. Last month, the group presented its final report to commissioners and the School Board.

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County Commissioners John Schnebly and William Wivell, School Board administrators William McKinley and Dennis McGee and School Board members Mary Wilfong and J. Herbert Hardin were on the committee.

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

Winter Street, Cascade, Maugansville, Conococheague and Funkstown would close under the plan. Students from Funkstown would be split between Emma K. Doub and Fountain Rock, while a new $10 million school would be built to hold Maugansville and Conococheague students.

The town meetings will run from April to June and will be held in the affected areas.

All meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. They will be held:

-- April 9 at Western Heights Middle School to discuss Salem Avenue and Winter Street elementary schools.

-- April 30 at Western Heights Middle School to discuss Maugansville and Conococheague elementary schools.

-- May 14 at E. Russell Hicks Middle School to discuss Funkstown, Emma K. Doub and Fountain Rock elementary schools.

-- June 4 at Smithsburg High School to discuss Cascade and Smithsburg elementary schools.

Tuesday morning, the School Board also considered a request by Jenny Belliotti, president of the Washington County Council of PTAs, to attend a PTA meeting on March 26. Board members decided against attending because five of the seven members have prior engagements.

Board members Doris Nipps and Hardin were absent from the morning meeting.

Board member Paul Bailey and Wilfong also called the PTA meeting inappropriate and premature, since it is being held before the board's town meetings.

"The March meeting is inappropriate because we have not gotten to the individual communities to give them the facts," Wilfong said. "The PTA can do what it wants, but I don't think they should expect the board or anybody from the staff to be there."

Board members Bernadette Wagner, Roxanne Ober and Edward Forrest were all satisfied with holding the four town meetings but said they would consider a PTA meeting afterward.

Most of the parents who spoke out Tuesday night called the Facilities Review Committee's report flawed, while students from Conococheague said they didn't want to lose their small school.

Pam Newhouse, chairwoman of the Funkstown Citizens Advisory Council, said that by agreeing to the town meetings the board is justifying the report. She said the public was not aware of the consolidation meetings held by the Facilities Review Committee, and the report is incomplete and inaccurate.

"The report must be discarded," Newhouse said.

"Parents know that this is a recipe for disaster," said Leslie LeBlanc of Funkstown.

Conococheague parent Jan Hovermale said the Facilities Review Committee was looking at saving dollars rather than the quality of education.

She said a larger school would hurt learning.

"The Cascade School Committee absolutely does not want our school to close and be consolidated with another school," Hovermale said. "Bigger class size is not what our children need."

Her daughter, Kelsey, a fourth-grader at Conococheague, said students would lose memories and teachers if the schools close.

"If these schools are torn down, all these memories will be torn down with them," Kelsey said. "Now please, think with your heart. If you were a kid, would you want your school to be shut down?"

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