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Commissioners: Schools should consider merging

March 03, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

If the Washington County Commissioners decide to give the Board of Education a more than $4 million increase in construction dollars, the school system should consider closing and consolidating some schools to save money, Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said Tuesday.

"If we're going to look at putting additional money in (the construction budget) for the school system ... we need to come to some kind of an agreement with the elected board and superintendent," Nipps said.

Nipps made the statements while the commissioners discussed how much they should borrow to support the county's construction budget, known as the Capital Improvement Program.

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The school board asked the commissioners to increase the county's contribution to the school system's capital plan to $10 million a year beginning in fiscal year 2005. The commissioners allocated $5.9 million to the school board for the current fiscal year.

Nipps said the school board should revisit some recommendations made by the Facilities Review Committee in February 2001. She said the costs of operating some smaller schools are high.

"The operations of some of these small schools is costing the taxpayers of this county," Nipps said. "We can't afford to continue to operate the way we have in the past."

"I agree 100 percent," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said. "And I would think that they are open to that."

The Facilities Review Committee recommended consolidating Cascade and Smithsburg elementary schools; Winter Street and Salem Avenue elementary schools; Conococheague and Maugansville elementary schools; and Emma K. Doub, Fountain Rock and Funkstown elementary schools.

Cascade, Winter Street, Conococheague, Maugansville and Funkstown elementary schools were to close under the plan.

The school board rejected the recommendations four months later, in June 2001, saying the committee's report wasn't thorough and lacked input from the community.

Nipps was on the school board when it turned down the recommendations. At that time, Nipps said she didn't agree with the recommendations as they were presented by the committee.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said by telephone Tuesday night that she thinks the school board has shown its willingness to close and consolidate schools.

The school board voted in February 2003 - two years after the Facilities Review Committee made its recommendations - to close Conococheague Elementary School and send those students to a new Maugansville Elementary School.

The school board also voted in 2003 to create a magnet school at Emma K. Doub which is open to students in that attendance area and those from the Funkstown attendance area.

The board created the Funkstown School for Early Childhood Education, which serves pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. The two schools, which had unfilled rosters in some classes, now have an even enrollment, the school board said.

Nipps was a county commissioner when those decisions were made.

In addition, Morgan said she plans to recommend that the school board close the Job Development Center, a school for the mentally disabled.

To close more schools, Morgan said the school board would first need money from the county to build additions to existing schools. The extra room would be needed to house the students from the schools that would close, Morgan said.

"We can't close more schools unless we have money to put additions on schools," Morgan said.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he agreed that some schools should close.

"I don't have a problem with helping the schools ... but, by golly, I want them to start helping theirselves," he said.

He also said he didn't think the school board would be satisfied if the commissioners increased the county's allocation to the school system's capital budget.

"No matter what we give them, they're going to get in the papers and say we didn't give them enough," Munson said.

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