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mail - editorial - 12/2/01

January 02, 2002

Separate school closings from redistricting design



The Washington County School Board's members begin their look at the Blue Ribbon Redistricting Committee's recommendations this coming Friday at noon. They'll hold in a couple of sessions to begin the work of turning the panel's input into a workable plan that balances educational needs with economic realities.

What does that mean? Simply put, some schools are overcrowded, while others have space to spare. The task is to shift students to schools where there's room, without adversely affecting them, by, for example, forcing them to endure a 45-minute bus ride.

There is not enough local money to expand every crowded school here, nor will the state provide any if there's space available in other nearby schools. Rejecting all the redistricting proposals is not an option for the School Board members, but they may be able to improve somewhat on the plan the committee has given them.

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One item that certainly ought to get a second look is the proposal the redistricting committee rejected to close Maugansville and Conococheague elementary schools and build a new, combined school.

School officials estimate that doing that would save $3 million, not to mention the savings that would take place by combining administration and custodial staffs. But in the current economy, with contractors hungry for work, the bids might come in a bit lower - for renovations or new construction.

Then there's the issue of size. Conococheague has approximately 250 students, while Maugansville has about 330. Combining them would mean a school of nearly 600 students, assuming no growth in either of those districts. At some point, students in the middle - those who are neither top performers or special-education students - will start to get lost in the shuffle.

Deciding what's right won't be easy, which is why it should be treated separately from redistricting. The School Board is tentatively set to vote on all the committee recommendations by Jan. 22, but would be well-advised to give the school closing issue some additional time and scrutiny.

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