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West End parents voice consolidation concerns

April 09, 2001

West End parents voice consolidation concerns



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

If the Washington County Board of Education and County Commissioners weren't aware of it before, residents of the city's West End had no problem telling them of their displeasure with plans to consolidate and close some county schools Monday night.

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Most of the 50 parents, teachers and community leaders who attended the meeting at Western Heights Middle School were opposed to the possible closing of Winter Street Elementary, increased class size at Salem Avenue Elementary and concerned that the 50 special needs students at Marshall Street School will be lost in the shuffle.

One person, Harold Phillips of Clear Spring, spoke in favor of school consolidation. Phillips said the county would save money over the next 10 years by consolidating schools.

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"...We could save over $1.5 billion on public education," Phillips said. "Consolidation is but one element..."

It was the first of four meetings on consolidation.

The School Board is considering a plan that would save $1.6 million a year by closing five elementary schools and consolidating others. In the West End, the plan recommends closing Winter Street and sending the students to Marshall Street, a school built in 1976 for special needs students.

Fifth-graders in the Winter Street district who attend Western Heights Middle School, would join the rest of the Winter Street students at Marshall Street. The board claims the 50 special needs students would be moved to a 13,000-square-foot section of Marshall Street, although the consolidation report states the students could also temporarily be placed at the vacant Winter Street school or at Western Heights.

In addition, fifth-graders in the Salem Avenue district who attend Western Heights would be returned to Salem.

Salem Avenue and Marshall Street schools would be renovated to accommodate the additional students.

"You have a plan for all students except for Marshall Street students," said parent Mary Stevens. "It appears that the needs of these students are secondary ... I refuse to allow you to do that."

Stevens, who walked away from the podium in tears, has a child with Down syndrome at Marshall Street. Stevens is also the chairwoman of the Marshall Street Citizens Advisory Council.

Mark Gonzalez, who has a son at Marshall Street, said he feared the School Board would forget about the needs of students at the school.

"Your idea is to mainstream...," Gonzalez said. "These children need a place where they can go that is their own. Please do not consolidate Marshall Street with any other schools."

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II spoke out against consolidation, saying it would harm future growth in the city and county.

"You will not have people who build houses in the city of Hagerstown, because they want to build houses that are close to their school," Bruchey said. "This is wrong. You're just not going to build up the city of Hagerstown and Washington County by not having neighborhood schools."

Doug Wright, a member of the Hagerstown Planning Commission, challenged the projected county savings stated in the consolidation report, saying it would take years before the county would realize a savings.

"Where's the break even in this?" he asked. "I still think you're looking at a long time out."

The consolidation report was written by the Facilities Review Committee, a group initiated by the County Commissioners last summer. The group consists of two commissioners, two School Board members, School Board administrators and two county employees.

The School Board said Monday night that a decision has not been made and that consolidating schools would allow better educational opportunities.

School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner said the consolidated schools would be four-round schools that provide more planning time for teachers and full-time teachers in classes such as art and physical education.

Four-round schools have four sections of every grade level.

"The Washington County Board of Education is not just looking at dollars and cents," Wagner said. "We're looking at what's best for children educationally."

The plan also considers consolidating Cascade and Smithsburg; Maugansville and Conococheague; and Fountain Rock, Emma K. Doub and Funkstown elementary schools. Cascade, Maugansville, Conococheague and Funkstown would also close.

A new school would be built to house the Maugansville and Conococheague students.

Other consolidation meetings will be held on:

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

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

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

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