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School panel given wrong information

January 14, 2002

School panel given wrong information



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com


Members of the Blue Ribbon Redistricting Committee say a Washington County Board of Education administrator did not give them an accurate description of the board's long-term Capital Improvement Plan after finding out it includes the closing of Conococheague Elementary School.

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"I am very shocked to hear that it was on the CIP," committee member Pam Newhouse said. "That was not told to us. I am upset that a board employee would have presented non-factual information to the committee."

Director of Facilities Management Dennis McGee told committee members during at least two redistricting meetings that Conococheague never was on the Capital Improvement Plan and would not be included until 15 years down the road, according to minutes of the meetings. After those 15 years, Conococheague could be renovated, the minutes state.

At a Jan. 8 School Board meeting, however, McGee told the board that Conococheague and Maugansville elementary schools were both scheduled to be closed, and that state planning approval could be sought this year.

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A new $11.1 million school would be built for the Maugansville students, and the Conococheague students would be split among the new school and several other schools. Construction of the new school would begin by 2005.

The minutes of an Oct. 24 redistricting committee meeting state McGee addressed the fate of the schools differently after responding to a question from John Hull, committee co-chair and interim executive assistant to the board.

"Mr. Hull asked Mr. McGee to project the time involved and expense should the BRRC recommend keeping both schools open and renovating one building. Mr. McGee indicated that Maugansville is included on the CIP for renovation, which is scheduled for 2005. Conococheague is currently not included on the CIP; however, he acknowledged that priorities do change and growth is a factor to consider," the minutes state.

McGee made similar comments at a Nov. 28 meeting, after committee member Angie Roberts asked whether Conococheague had ever been part of the Capital Improvement Plan, the minutes state.

"Mr. McGee replied that Conococheague was never included in the CIP. He noted Conococheague's natural rotation is in approximately 15 years - after older schools such as Salem Avenue, Fountaindale, Pangborn and Bester" are renovated, according to the minutes.

McGee said in a phone interview Wednesday that the closing of the schools was on the capital plan all along.

"It's been on there for years," McGee said.

He said that construction costs for the new school include an expanded facility that would include Conococheague students, if approved by the School Board.

School Board President Edward Forrest said the capital plan released in 2000 includes the consolidation of both schools. The 2003 capital plan, which was released over the summer, states the school may house Conococheague students, but that the plans are not definite.

"I certainly can understand - if it was stated one way and then stated another way - their concern," Forrest said of the committee members.

Forrest also said the Capital Improvement Plan is flexible and can be changed.

"The CIP is not a document that is set in cement," Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said Sunday. "You can change your mind basically at any time."

She said it's up to the School Board to make changes to the plan. She also said the school system has not yet requested money from the state to build the new Maugansville school.

Committee member Jenny Belliotti said if the committee had known that the plan included the closing and consolidation of Conococheague and Maugansville, it may have voted differently. Committee members voted to support the board's Capital Improvement Plan because they thought it included the renovation of Maugansville and then eventually Conococheague, they have said. They said they did not have enough time or information to recommend closing any schools.

"Nobody knew it," Belliotti said. "That's why we voted the way we did. In no way were we under the impression that Conococheague was included in the current CIP, and that would have maybe changed the way we voted."

When asked why board administrators didn't tell the committee that the Maugansville renovation included the closing of Conococheague, Morgan replied, "I can't answer that."

Belliotti said she thought the closing of Conococheague was included in an older capital plan but had been removed from the current one.

The redistricting committee was created by the School Board to decrease enrollment at some schools and increase it at others.

Roberts, who is also a Conococheague parent and opposed to the school's closing, said the committee should have been made aware that the renovation of Maugansville included the closing of Conococheague.

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