Carroll planners make bid to save schools $35 million They'll urge scrapping plans for 2 schools, shift in boundaries at hearing

November 25, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

At least three members of the county's seven-member planning commission say the county can save $35 million by shuffling school boundary lines and cutting a middle school and a high school from the county's six-year capital program.

Grant S. Dannelly of Marriottsville, Robin M. Frazier of Manchester, and Maurice E. Wheatley of Eldersburg are expected to argue at the commission's meeting tonight that the county should expand the capacity of existing schools, transferring students to them and to other schools yet to be built.

Although state law gives the planning panel the power to stop the construction of any public building it believes inconsistent with the county master plan, the County Commissioners can override such a recommendation.

Still, a planning commission vote that a new Westminster high school and middle school are inconsistent with the county master plan "is a pretty powerful statement," said commission Chairman Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine.

"But we can't just say it because we feel it," said Hiltz, who contends that a proposed $28.6 million Westminster high school and a proposed $14.6 million Westminster middle school are compatible with the county master plan.

But other planning commission members might disagree. And Hiltz, as chairman, usually doesn't vote unless there is a tie.

Frazier says the county can avoid building a new middle school if some Westminster students are transferred to North Carroll Middle and West Middle. "We need to put district lines for schools where they make sense," she said.

The building of two middle schools and two high schools in the next six years "is a waste of the taxpayers' money," Frazier said.

Dannelly agreed. "There are a lot of reasons why we don't need a new [Westminster] high school. I am looking to save money," he said.

Under an agreement previously worked out between the County Commissioners and the school board, the county will use 10 percent of its income tax revenue to pay the interest on bonds to build two middle schools and two high schools in the next six years.

Dannelly said that if the county can keep the bond level down by building two fewer schools, "you don't have to raise taxes" to pay interest on the bonds. "Bonding is good to a point," he said, "but the school board has not done its job."

Wheatley said Dannelly and Frazier are right. He said he heard for the first time last week that school enrollment was declining.

County budget supervisor Ted Zaleski said the rate of growth in school enrollment was declining, not the number of new students entering school.

Vernon Smith, director of school support services, said the school board is looking at redistricting and has taken that into account in its request for the new schools.

Eliminating a middle school and a high school from the six-year plan "would perpetuate overcrowding whether or not we redistrict" the way planning commissioners want, Smith said.

Construction of a $28.6 million southeast high school "is not going to relieve overcrowding [at the current Westminster High School] in any significant way, if at all," Smith said. "Westminster High School will continue to be seriously overcrowded, with 400, 500, 700 students" over capacity.

Eliminating the proposed Westminster middle school and redistricting students to West Middle and East Middle also would result in crowding, Smith said.

Because of differences in the way school crowding is calculated, "100 percent capacity for middle schools is very misleading," said planning commission member Melvin E. Baile Jr. of New Windsor. "A rating of 110 percent capacity in a middle school is like 130 percent or 140 percent in other schools" because of the way enrollment is counted, Baile said, pointing out that middle shcools have extras like music and art classes not offered in elementary school.

One of the first things the planning commission will have to decide tonight when considering the capital budget proposals, said Smith, is "what role are we playing here?"

"If the planning commission sees its role as bean counter, that's one thing," he said. "If it's evaluating projects in concert with the overall plan for Carroll County, that's another."

The school debate is at the end of tonight's agenda.

Commission members also will deal with two other potentially thorny issues: whether to recommend rezoning of more than 1,155 mostly rural acres in Eldersburg, Sykesville and Westminster for commercial and industrial use, and what changes, if any, it wants to propose in the county's adequate-facilities law.

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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