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Cascade Pre-K may shut down

December 27, 2001

Cascade Pre-K may shut down



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com


Following a trend of dwindling enrollment, the state-funded pre-kindergarten program at Cascade Elementary School may shut down in January if not enough students sign up for the morning class, school officials said.

Seven students must enroll before the Jan. 15 deadline to meet the state requirement of 20 children per class. Thirteen students are currently enrolled in the class.

"It's not definite," John Festerman, the Washington County Board of Education's director of elementary education, said Sunday. "If we don't increase the numbers, we can lose funding."

However, Festerman said the board may request a waiver from the state if 18 children are enrolled by the deadline. If the deadline passes and the class still isn't full, Festerman said he might recommend that the School Board pay for the program for the remainder of the year.

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"We don't want to take a program from anybody anytime," he said.

School Board President Edward Forrest said it's possible the school system might have to find the money to pay for the program.

"It certainly would be a budget consideration," Forrest said. "It's an important program. I'd hate to see it go under."

The Maryland State Department of Education pays for the pre-kindergarten program, called the Extended Elementary Education Program. Festerman said he received a letter from the state this month stating Cascade's enrollment did not meet its criteria.

He said the state held off issuing the notice at the beginning of the year to give the program's enrollment numbers a chance to increase. State education officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.

If the program is shut down, Festerman said Cascade's pre-kindergarten teacher, who is paid for with state money, might be reassigned by the School Board to another position in the school system.

"We'd find something. I'm sure we would," he said.

Cascade Principal Tim Abe said the school's staff will sort through student information cards to try to find siblings who may qualify for the program. He's also asking the community to pitch in and look for potential pre-kindergarten students.

"I am asking every parent in the community to engage in this endeavor to find seven additional pre-kindergarten students," Abe said in a written statement.

To qualify, children must be 4 years old and born before Dec. 31. Students do not have to live in the Cascade area to enroll in the school's program, but they must have their own transportation, school officials said.

If the program is removed from the school, Cascade parents can apply for pre-kindergarten programs in other schools as long as they have their own transportation, Festerman said.

Karl Weissenbach, chair of the Cascade Committee, said he's been posting signs throughout the community and spreading the word to parents about enrolling their children. He also said he has contacted the state to ask that the program not be shut down.

"It's a major concern up here," Weissenbach said. "It doesn't look good at the moment, to say the least."

Weissenbach said he fears if the pre-kindergarten program shuts down, it will refuel debate from critics who think the entire school should close because of a constant low enrollment. The school has an enrollment of about 170, but it has the capacity to hold 519 students.

The school lost many of its students when the federal government in 1998 closed Fort Ritchie, a former U.S. Army base in Cascade.

"We have our critics out there who would like to see us close down," Weissenbach said.

Last school year, the Facilities Review Committee recommended that the school be shut down to save money. The committee consisted of School Board members and administrators, county commissioners and county officials.

The School Board rejected the plan, saying Cascade's enrollment should be re-evaluated over the next five years.

"If the county and the state will give us time, we'll work things out," Weissenbach said.

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