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Parents appeal Eastern Primary decision

October 21, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- An appeal has been filed with state officials to overturn the Washington County Board of Education's decision to build Eastern Primary School on the east end of Hagerstown.

Dottie Gruhler, who has two children at Old Forge Elementary School, said Wednesday that she sent the appeal last week to Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Maryland State Department of Education.

The school system has until Nov. 9 to file a response.

"I am writing to you on behalf of myself and other concerned parents to appeal the recent decision," the appeal says. "We feel that the Eastern Primary School is in the wrong location at the wrong time, and represents the potential misuse of $25 million of taxpayer money."

Boyd Michael, deputy superintendent of Washington County Public Schools, said Wednesday that school officials intend to respond to the appeal by the deadline.

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"We respect the right of parents to appeal," Michael said. "(But) we have the obligation to do what's best for the students ... regardless of the opinions of a few parents."

During its meeting on Oct. 6, the board awarded contracts totaling about $18.3 million to pay a majority of the cost to construct the $25 million school, which is being built as part of a redistricting plan to help alleviate overcrowding at elementary schools across the county.

Redistricting is expected to affect about 1,500 students. Many of those students would be bused from their current schools to help fill Eastern Primary School.

The appeal states that "parents and residents (who are) opposed to the current proposal are aware that there are overcrowding issues that need to be resolved, and are not against viable, sensible solutions. We oppose Eastern Primary as the solution."

Gruhler said officials should build a school where it is needed in the southern part of Washington County rather than busing children to fill Eastern Primary School.

According to court documents, 72.47 acres of land were conveyed to the board by the estate of Jacob R. Palmer on Jan. 30, 1974. About 21.8 acres of that land near the intersection of Yale Drive and Mount Aetna Road will be used to build the school.

Gruhler accused school officials of choosing that site because the board already owns the land.

"We're bothered by two things," Gruhler said. "They're going to spend $25 million, and they're going to bus 1,500 kids ... They're our kids. It's our money. They're not doing their jobs."

Gruhler said the school's close proximity to Hagerstown Community College, Robinwood Medical Center and a planned regional hospital would put buses and students in heavy traffic.

"Their logic escapes us," she said.

Michael said school officials chose the site because it is in the best location to help the most number of students, not because the school system owns the land.

He said unless the state says otherwise, the construction of Eastern Primary School will begin next month.

The school is expected to open in August 2011.

"We're moving forward with all our plans," Michael said. "There's a construction trailer on site."

Michael said Maryland officials already have approved the project, and he said he doesn't anticipate that the state will withhold its $14 million share of the funding because of the appeal.

Washington County has agreed to pay $11 million of the cost.

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