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School for the arts plans still need some refinement

September 26, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

The Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, a facility planned to help local students make some sweet music, has generated some sour notes lately.

A week ago, Washington County Commissioner Kristin Aleshire asked Board of Education members why they could find $700,000 in their budget for the arts school, but not $400,000 to plan a new Antietam Academy.

School Board member Ruth Anne Callaham replied that her group had taken a "leap of faith" on the arts school and asked the commissioners to "stand tall" and do the same for Antietam.

Antietam, headquartered in an older building on the campus of South Hagerstown High School, is a school for students who have problems adapting to regular school.

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(Full disclosure: My oldest son is a teacher there.)

But the financing of Antietam isn't the only concern some members of the county board have about the school for the arts.

At this point, there is no agreement with the University System of Maryland's Hagerstown campus to allow arts school students to use the campus for their academic classes.

Nor is there an agreed-upon plan on how to feed students there or how to transport them to and from the school.

One of those concerns could be worked out under a memo of understanding between USM and the county school system.

David Warner, executive director of USM, said that when he was first approached about the idea of arts school students using classroom space, he was enthusiastic.

"Having an arts and music background, I immediately said I was willing to examine that," he said.

Warner said the Hagerstown Governing Council, which includes representatives of the six schools with programs there now, gave the idea "mixed reviews."

But Warner said he went ahead, on the idea that if such an arrangement could get the school open and growing, the issue of additional classroom space could be addressed sooner or later.

It might have to be addressed sooner, Warner said, because USM, which once was primarily a nighttime school, now has a number of classes held in the daytime.

The agreement Warner is proposing would give the arts school class space as long as it was available. If college-level daytime offerings at the campus grew, those would have to take precedence over the arts school's needs, Warner said.

The school system had asked for a five-year commitment, but Warner said "we could only provide the classroom space as long as the space is available."

Nor will it be able to provide such things as food service or counseling for students, he said.

Dale Bannon, the school system's director of system development, said the staff is reviewing the USM proposal now.

"We really are two years out from the school opening," Bannon said, adding that there is time for all the issues to be reviewed and resolved. Once a principal is hired, Bannon said, it will be easier to work out the logistics of things such as food service.

At this point, he said, there are three options for feeding students lunch. Food could be brought in and students would eat in their classrooms. Or students could eat in one of a number of restaurants downtown.

And, Bannon said, there have been talks with officials of the nearby Masonic Temple about using their ballroom for the students' lunch area.

Transportation could work as it does for the county's Technical High School, Bannon said. In that model, students are bused from their home schools to the tech high school, then back again.

What some members of the county board - and some citizens - are concerned with is that in the enthusiasm to get the arts school open, some significant costs might be overlooked.

Trying to paint the commissioners as heartless if they don't fully fund all requests is a technique that didn't work in the past - and should be avoided now.

With two years to go, this would be a good time for some private fundraising, not only to assure the commissioners that the county won't foot the entire bill, but to demonstrate that there is at least as much support for the arts school as there was for the new stadium at North Hagerstown High School.

A benefit concert at the Maryland Theatre would be a good start. And a packed house would show that more than a few people are willing to contribute to make sure that this "leap of faith" isn't a tumble into a financial abyss.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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