Commissioners, board say larger school is needed Elementary is planned for 600 students

January 05, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The school board is willing to try it -- to build a bigger elementary school as the County Commissioners have insisted.

And it might as well be the school planned for the county's fastest-growing area -- Eldersburg, school officials said at a joint quarterly meeting yesterday.

"Of all the projects we have, there's only one that justifies building a larger school, and that's Southeast," said Vernon Smith, director of school support services.

"When you open it, it's going to be full, and so are the other five schools in the area," he said. "It's very clearly justified for 600 students. It's justified at 750."

The school so far is planned for 600 students, and has gotten a nod from state officials but no money yet. It is tentatively set to open in the fall of 1997, off Linton Road.

Mr. Smith said if the school board and commissioners want him to look into adding five classrooms and expanding other areas to accommodate an additional 150 students, he'll have to move quickly.

"We want to be ready to [advertise for] bids in a couple of months," he said, adding that he'll talk with the architect and see whether the change would affect the project's status for state money. Although it has no construction money from the state yet, officials are hoping to appeal this month to the state Board of Public Works. At worst, the project is in the pipeline for construction money in 1997-1998.

An elementary for 600 students is the ideal officials have set. That number is just enough to justify one full-time teacher in each specialty area, such as art, music and physical education. Also, school officials have pointed to studies that say the smaller the school, the more effective the instruction.

But nearly all of Carroll's schools are larger than the guidelines recommend, some with about 800 students, and some schools using portable classrooms. Since the fall, Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates insisted that school officials reconsider their guidelines, which recommend 750 students in middle schools and 1,200 in high schools.

Mr. Brown said the schools are filled soon after they open, because of state requirements, and then have to add portables. He said it makes more sense to design schools with some room to grow, even if it means the county pays a larger share of the bill -- usually the state pays half of projects it approves.

But Mr. Brown said it may be a matter of the county paying the whole bill anyway, because the state may not pay for all five schools Carroll County needs to build in the next decade.

The issue caused a rift last month when the commissioners said that the school board ignored their request.

Mr. Brown and Mr. Yates sent the board a letter threatening to hold back school construction money if the board didn't consider larger schools. Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the letter was antagonistic and did not sign it.

The commissioners did not know at the time that the school board and superintendent had directed staff to report on the feasibility of the commissioners' suggestion that larger schools, larger class sizes, and redistricting might be solutions to crowding.

Yesterday, all parties were generally cordial and somewhat conciliatory, saying much of the tension was due to miscommunication.

Board of Education member C. Scott Stone suggested pursuing a larger design for one of the schools. Although they didn't vote, other board members consented. In addition to Southeast, the next schools to be built are elementaries in Westminster and Manchester.

Mr. Brown yesterday backed off from his earlier insistence on larger classes and redistricting for elementary schools, saying neither are long-term solutions.

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