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Redistricting plan jeered in Clear Spring

March 22, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

CLEAR SPRING -- Clear Spring-area residents gathered Sunday to protest a plan to shift 130 students to Hancock schools through a countywide redistricting effort.

Of the roughly 70 people who packed Clear Spring Town Hall, several said the proposal would lengthen commutes, divert buses onto a dangerous highway and create havoc for after-school plans.

Some said the proposal runs counter to the idea of a school being a central part of the community.

"Our friends, families and support groups are in Clear Spring, not Hancock," Joi Gazzerro said.

A few people criticized Clear Spring's representatives on the Washington County Public Schools Facilities and Enrollment Advisory Committee, which is due to submit a redistricting plan by December.

One representative, Dirk DeVault, said he missed two meetings, one by accident. The other representative, Jim Micco, said his first meeting was after the Clear Spring shift first came up.

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Residents said the plan gained momentum without any Clear Spring representatives trying to stop it.

When the committee first talked about the shift, "I didn't take it seriously," DeVault said.

He said FEAC members "get brainwashed" by the number they're given. He thanked the crowd for doing research and explaining the real effects.

DeVault hinted he might resign, but no one at the meeting offered to take his place.

Instead, several people said they want DeVault and Micco to be informed and good advocates for Clear Spring.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said the Clear Spring shift makes no sense. He asked residents to send him their concerns in writing and promised to keep them informed.

Fifteen public elementary schools in the county are considered overcapacity based on September 2008 enrollment. The number is expected to rise to 18 by 2013-14, when three high schools and one middle school also would be overcrowded.

Last month, FEAC members highlighted Eastern Primary School in Hagerstown as a key element of redistricting.

The school is expected to open in 2011 near the existing Eastern Elementary School. It will have room for 695 students in prekindergarten to second grade; its target capacity will be 625.

The committee is hoping to balance enrollment between crowded schools and those with extra space across the county. Enrollment changes wouldn't start before 2009-10 and might be phased in.

Committee members have talked about moving students from Smithsburg to Cascade and from Greenbrier to Old Forge.

Big Pool parent Heather Barnhart said FEAC currently favors a plan to send 63 elementary school children from Clear Spring to Hancock.

A FEAC chart shows that 34 middle school and 33 high school students also would be shifted.

Kamela Lee, the mother of three children who would be affected, said her niece read about the proposal in the newspaper and told her. Lee and Crissy Weaver gathered 116 signatures on a petition opposing the plan.

About 30 Clear Spring-area residents attended the last FEAC meeting, Lee said. Many plan to attend the next FEAC meeting on Tuesday.

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