Board OKs Eastern Primary construction

Group of parents says they will appeal the board's decision

Group of parents says they will appeal the board's decision

October 06, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- A group of parents with children in Washington County Public Schools say they will appeal the Washington County Board of Education's decision Tuesday to approve the construction of Eastern Primary School on the east end of Hagerstown.

Dottie Gruhler, who has two children at Old Forge Elementary School, said after the board meeting that parents who oppose Eastern Primary would file an appeal with the Maryland Attorney General's Office. She said if that doesn't work, they might take their fight to court.

"The board has failed the children," Gruhler said. "It doesn't make sense to bus kids to fill a school."

The $25 million Eastern Primary is being built as part of a redistricting proposal to alleviate overcrowding in elementary schools across the county. If the redistricting plan is approved as a whole, it would affect 20 of 26 elementary schools and about 1,500 students. Many of those students would be bused from their existing schools to Eastern Primary.


About 10 parents who spoke during the board meeting said a new school should be built in South County, where overcrowding is an issue. They said busing children just to fill Eastern Primary doesn't make sense.

Jennifer Ashbaugh, who has two children at Old Forge Elementary, urged the board to delay making a decision until the public could give more feedback.

"Please take this opportunity to set the right example of how things can be done correctly," she said.

After hearing comments from parents, some of the board members spoke before casting their votes.

Board member Justin Hartings said development will come to the eastern part of the county sooner than the southern part. When that happens, he said, Eastern Primary will be needed.

Board Vice President Ruth Anne Callaham said her heart went "out to parents who feel they've been disenfranchised," but Eastern Primary will provide a state-of-the-art learning center. She said parents should consider busing as a better alternative to children who currently walk to school -- sometimes in cold and rainy weather.

"It's a difficult decision," Board President Wayne Ridenour said. "I will always vote on what's best for the kids in the long run."

Karen Manganaro, whose fifth-grader won't be affected by the redistricting, said after the meeting that busing will cause parents and children to be too far apart to participate in after-school activities.

"I was extremely disappointed," she said. "We're building schools for proposed construction -- not for the current need."

Deputy Superintendent Boyd Michael said after the meeting that the $18.3 million in contracts that were awarded Tuesday won't cover the entire cost of Eastern Primary.

The board still has to award contracts, among other things, for wood flooring, utilities and off-site road construction, he said.

Michael said the state will pay $14 million toward the project, and $11 million will be paid by the county.

He said there is a misconception that the school system would be allowed to keep the state portion of the funding to build another school if the Eastern Primary plan were scrapped.

"There is no $14 million that's waiting to pop down for another project," Michael said. "I appreciate the parents' passion but, unfortunately, they're sharing a lot of misinformation."

Michael said the system intends to build a school in South County by 2018. That date could move up, he said, if development increases.

How they voted

Paul Bailey, yes

Donna Brightman, no

Ruth Anne Callaham, yes

W. Edward Forrest, yes

Justin Hartings, yes

Wayne Ridenour, yes

William Staley, yes

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