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Cascade disputes timetable for consolidation

April 30, 2001

Cascade disputes timetable for consolidation



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Cascade-area residents are beginning to doubt the credibility of the Washington County Board of Education and Washington County Commissioners after being told Cascade Elementary School could close sooner than expected, said the chairman of the Cascade Committee.

The county commissioners initiated a school consolidation study last year. The study found that consolidating several county elementary schools could save about $1.6 million a year while not harming the quality of education.

The consolidation study includes a proposal to move the Cascade students to Smithsburg Elementary School, which is about 10 miles away.

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The School Board has repeatedly stated that the earliest date students may be in consolidated schools is 2005.

In mid-April, Karl Weissenbach, chairman of the Cascade Committee, received a letter from Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett that Cascade Elementary could "technically" close three years earlier - in August 2002.

"I think that there is now general confusion and suspicion of what the true intentions are of the Washington County Board of Education and the county commissioners as it relates to the Cascade community," Weissenbach said.

Bartlett also stated in his letter that the practical date to complete an expansion to Smithsburg Elementary would not be until August 2005.

Carol Mowen, the board's public information officer, said that the school system would have no place to put the Cascade students if the school closed in 2002.

"I don't think the board has even considered that as a feasible timeline," Mowen said.

She said when Bartlett wrote that the school could technically close in 2002, he meant that the legal documentation could be completed by then.

"The school system would not have a plan to house the students at that time," Mowen said. "No one has ever suggested that we would relocate the students in order to go with that timeline."

Weissenbach believes the board could obtain portable classrooms to house the students while the renovations to Smithsburg Elementary are completed.

"The problem for us is, at what point would they make the decision to use portables, which are easily installed?" he said. "Based on what has happened so far in this sordid affair, should the Cascade community be expected to take at face value what our elected officials tell us?"

Cascade residents are opposed to the possible consolidation. They believe that a school is needed in the community to help economic growth, smaller schools are safer and provide more educational opportunities and that young children would spend more than an hour on the school bus while being transported to and from Smithsburg Elementary School.

Bartlett has also stated Cascade Elementary would lose its Title I funding if it is consolidated with Smithsburg Elementary. Title I is a federally-funded program that provides financial assistance to help low-achieving students in high poverty schools meet high quality standards of performance.

The Cascade Committee is holding a community meeting to discuss consolidation at 6:30 p.m. on May 7 at Lakeside Hall at Fort Ritchie.

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