Passionate pleas made at redistricting meeting

Parents say children would spend too much time on buses, complain about location of Eastern Primary

Parents say children would spend too much time on buses, complain about location of Eastern Primary

September 17, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Nearly two dozen people made passionate pleas against a proposal to redistrict several public elementary schools in Washington County during a meeting Thursday night at Rockland Woods Elementary School south of Hagerstown.

The meeting was the second in two weeks to get feedback from the public on the redistricting issue. About 85 people attended and directed their concerns to the Facilities and Enrollment Advisory Committee, which was charged by the Washington County Board of Education earlier this year to address redistricting 20 of 26 elementary schools in the county.

Redistricting is being considered to ease overcrowding.

Roughly 1,500 elementary students could be affected by redistricting, Rob Rollins, executive director of school operations for Washington County Public Schools, said after the meeting.

The schools that could be affected are Bester, Boonsboro, Cascade, Conococheague, Eastern, Fountain Rock, Fountaindale, Funkstown Early Learning Center, Greenbrier, Lincolnshire, Maugansville, Old Forge, Pangborn, Paramount, Potomac Heights, Rockland Woods, Salem Avenue, Sharpsburg, Williamsport and Winter Street.


Many of the speakers at the meeting said they have children who attend schools in the southern part of the county. They said it would make more sense to send fifth-graders at Boonsboro Elementary to Boonsboro Middle School rather than bus those students to Rockland Woods -- a proposal that would increase the distance and time children spend on buses.

Keedysville resident Sherry Little said the proposal to redirect children from Boonsboro Elementary to Rockland Woods would mean that her son in kindergarten would have to board the bus at 6:30 a.m. She said he would be so tired after school that he would have to go to bed around 7 p.m. to be able to function the next day.

"There's nothing wrong with Rockland Woods," she said. "It's just too far."

Other parents at the meeting decried the decision of school officials to build the new Eastern Primary School on the east end of Hagerstown. If that plan comes to fruition, the $25 million school would be completed in August 2011 and accommodate about 695 students. A good portion of those students would be bused in from other areas of the county.

Rollins said before the meeting that school officials received bids Thursday from contractors interested in the Eastern Primary School project.

Several of the speakers said that rather than build Eastern Primary and fill it with children from other schools, the Board of Education should build a school in South County where overcrowding is prevalent.

Fran Gabianelli, who said she has a first-grader at Greenbrier Elementary, said Eastern Primary is the wrong school in the wrong location at the wrong time.

"'You build it and they will come' ideas are getting old," she said.

Kristine Koenecke said the board needs to admit that Eastern Primary is a mistake and realize that South County has the greatest need for a new school.

"It's still not too late to scrap a project," she said. "Don't build Eastern Primary."

One woman drew loud applause when she said that she didn't trust the Board of Education.

Board member Donna Brightman, who along with Paul Bailey and Ruth Anne Callaham were the only of seven board members to attend the meeting, said afterward that she voted against Eastern Primary when she "felt the economy had altered enough to take another look."

"Until the bids are awarded, it's not a done deal," Brightman said when asked whether the Eastern Primary project could be stopped. "What I'm hearing consistently is that the proposed Eastern Primary is not supported by these citizens."

Adam Lewis, co-chairman of the Facilities and Enrollment Advisory Committee, said redistricting is just a proposal at this point.

"All this stuff isn't set in stone," he said. "That's why we're holding these meetings."

He said the public comments will be considered by the committee.

The Board of Education and Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan will make the final decision.

Third and final redistricting forum

A third and final meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at Pangborn Elementary School.

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