Frederick Co. board won't attend forum on Mount Airy high (( school Education officials say numbers don't support building facility in town

December 09, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Frederick County Board of Education has declined an invitation to attend a forum to discuss a proposed Mount Airy high school. A Carroll schools official says she cannot support the project.

Mount Airy, which straddles both counties, has been lobbying for a high school for years. The Mount Airy High School Committee tentatively scheduled a forum to discuss the issue Jan. 14.

Questions arose about how two counties sharing a high school would handle different calendars, costs per pupil, transportation, special education and tuition.

The Mount Airy High School Committee cannot bring education officials together to help answer those questions.

"We are not putting them off, but you don't start this process with a public meeting," said Jean A. Smith, president of the Frederick County Board of Education and a town resident. "If you have two boards attending, it is as if we are endorsing the idea."

Committee members see a high school as a center for cultural and recreational activities in the community of 5,000, which has elementary and middle schools. The high school closed in 1967.

A local high school would "pull the community together and give it a sense of pride," said Roger D. Rich, chairman of the high school committee. Now, depending on where area students live, they travel eight to 14 miles to high school.

Smith has suggested the committee conduct a feasibility study and write a proposal.

"We are not unfriendly and we want to be good neighbors, but this is a complex issue and they need to follow the steps we have laid out for them," said Smith.

To meet the state enrollment requirement -- 1,200 students for a high school that would cost about $30 million -- Mount Airy would have to draw from Frederick and Carroll counties.

The committee said it has the enrollment numbers, but it has proposed a school district that reaches to New Market in Frederick and Woodbine in Carroll. About 700 students would attend from Linganore High in Frederick and about 500 from South Carroll High. Neither school is considered crowded.

"We have to prove the need for a school with statistics and we cannot count Carroll County students in our need," said Smith. hTC "We have 23 overcrowded schools in Frederick County and we are building in our population centers. The edge of the county would not be our choice for a school. The population there does not demand a school."

Ann M. Ballard, a Carroll County school board member who has agreed to meet with the group, said statistics will deter the project. Carroll is pushing for schools in areas far more populated than Mount Airy.

The county is building a high school in Eldersburg to ease crowding in the South Carroll area and needs another school in the Westminster area, where the existing high school is more than 600 students over its capacity.

"I have an open dialogue with the committee and will come and listen," said Ballard. "But at this time, I cannot support this school, when we are fighting for schools in other areas of the county where there is crowding."

Because the proposed site is on town-owned property on the Frederick side of Mount Airy, Frederick County would have to build the $30 million school and probably seek reimbursement from the state. Carroll would have to pay tuition for its students who attended the new school.

"Why would the state build a high school that would create 700 vacancies in Frederick County and 500 in Carroll County?" Ballard asked. "And you cannot force parents to send their kids out of county to school."

Without state approval, Frederick County would be funding construction of a school it does not need, said Smith. The school would most likely open with empty seats, said Ballard.

"All we are asking is for them to come and listen to our

presentation," said Rich. "This is unconscionable for people who are supposedly serving the people. They say it looks like they are endorsing the school. What does it look like when they refuse to attend a public meeting?"

Rich sees the forum as an opportunity for officials to gauge public sentiment. Residents are encouraged to comment.

"We are not some group trying to undermine anything," Rich said. "We just want education officials to hear what is viable for our community."

The committee will meet within the next week and continue planning the forum, he said.

"If anyone on that Frederick board is planning to run for office, they should be listening to voters," Rich said.

Pub Date: 12/09/98

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