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Conococheague closure part of master plan

April 17, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education Tuesday night paved the way for closing Conococheague Elementary School by directing the head of facilities management to prepare plans to shut it down.

The school's closing will be listed in the 2003 Educational Facilities Master Plan, which is to be approved by the School Board in June and then sent to the state for approval. The board will vote by January on whether to close the school.

The School Board voted 6-0 to move forward with the plan. Board member Mary Wilfong was absent.

The plan calls for building a new Maugansville Elementary School on another site in the area and sending some of the Conococheague students to the new school. The remaining Conococheague students may go to Clear Spring or Williamsport elementary schools.

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Dennis McGee, director of facilities management, said the school system would save $3 million by building a new Maugansville school and closing Conococheague instead of renovating both schools. The school system also would save about $400,000 a year in staffing costs, he said.

"It makes sense in saving us money," School Board member J. Herbert Hardin said Tuesday afternoon. "All of that is really sensible."

Students would remain at their current schools until the new Maugansville school opens in 2006.

School officials have said the enrollment at a modern, larger Maugansville school would enable the board to hire full-time specialty teachers, such as gifted and talented, physical education and art teachers.

The Maugansville and Conococheague schools currently have part-time specialty teachers because of low enrollments.

A new Maugansville school would hold 584 students. The current Maugansville school has about 300 students, and Conococheague has 256.

The new school would have space for specialty classrooms, including room for speech, a full gymnasium and playing fields.

"I'm always looking at the best way to educate kids," School Board President Edward Forrest said after Tuesday night's meeting. "If it's planned the way it's envisioned, then we can offer students opportunities that they currently don't have."

He said that moving forward with the plan now would enable the School Board to receive money from the state for the project.

"The time is now to really start planning for it," Forrest said.

He cautioned, however, that the School Board still must take an official vote to close the school.

"Certainly, it's not over and the board hasn't made a final decision," Forrest said. "It's just a planning stage."

McGee said a public hearing would be held on the issue this fall.

At least one parent said she believed it was the School Board's intention to close Conococheague all along.

"I think it's been a done deal, but we can't give up the fight," Angie Roberts said after the meeting.

Roberts has one child at Clear Spring Middle School and two who will attend Conococheague in the next several years.

While members of the Conococheague community have long opposed plans to shut down the school, Roberts appeared to be the only parent at the meeting.

The debate over whether to close Conococheague began several years ago, but the School Board decided against moving ahead with earlier proposals.

Roberts said parents are not happy that the school closing is in the works and are not convinced that a larger school would boost the quality of education for their children.

"They want the smaller school," Roberts said. "It's more of a family unit."

She said parents feel that the School Board is concerned more with saving money than with improving the education of children.

"We vote people in to take care of our kids, and it's just unfortunate that ... they have to be looking at the financial end of that."

Interim Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan on Tuesday afternoon dismissed claims that smaller schools provide a better education. She said school atmosphere, the quality of teachers and the way a school uses its resources are what make a school successful.

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