Better planning would win schools more state funds It...


January 14, 2001

Better planning would win schools more state funds

It is time for the taxpayers, parents and educators of Carroll County to know why our state has repeatedly refused to fund new school construction in this county, especially the Cranberry Station Elementary School and the new Westminster-area high school:

Our county does not appear to have a comprehensive systemwide school plan at this time.

Our county and school decision-makers continue to insist on building new schools in the wrong places and have different rules for different areas of the county when it comes to school planning.

Our decision-makers have not adequately coordinated with municipalities on how home construction relates to school planning.

Our school enrollment projection process leaves many questions unanswered.

In a county like ours with rapidly growing communities such as Mount Airy, if we were doing all these things correctly, we would be much more likely to receive state approval and funding for the new schools that we very much need. This is happening in nearby Frederick County, which is in the midst of a massive school-building effort, with lots of state aid.

It is so simple: If only our county decision-makers would do their part by proposing new schools only where they are clearly justified by enrollment projections, the state would do its part by paying its fair share.

Our current decision-makers have not learned from past mistakes, such as Cranberry Station Elementary School (152 students under capacity, with enrollment slated to decline by 81 in the next five years), which the state has repeatedly said it will not fund.

It also appears we will proceed with construction of a new Westminster-area high school, a school the state has repeatedly told us it will not fund because it is not justified by enrollment projections.

Is it a coincidence that both schools the state says are unjustified are in Westminster, while schools in other areas of this county are bursting at the seams?

This year there are 732 empty elementary school seats in the Westminster area; this number will top 1,000 in 2004. And we will build a new high school in Westminster.

Mount Airy Elementary, with a capacity of 650 and an enrollment of 681, is projected to have an enrollment of 921 in four years and to continue to grow. One thousand new homes are in the pipeline for Mount Airy.

Yet county officials continue to say no new schools are being planned near Mount Airy.

How is it possible to have so much excess school capacity in one part of this county, while we have in another part an elementary school enrollment approximating that of a county high school?

Who in this world would find it acceptable to send a 5-year-old to kindergarten in an elementary school nearly the size of a high school?

Yet we keep building schools in the area with excess capacity. I do not understand.

Why are our decision-makers proceeding with the new Westminster-area high school, unnecessarily placing a long-term financial burden on the taxpayers, when an obvious and inexpensive solution to the Westminster High School's overcrowding is crystal clear?

The enrollment at Westminster High could be reduced by more than 10 percent as soon as this August by reassigning students to nearby Francis Scott Key High School, which this year has 246 available seats.

Such a move would free up Board of Education funds for many other key initiatives throughout the county that are not adequately funded now, initiatives that would allow us to return the focus to academics after the trials and tribulations of recent years.

Such programs include much-deserved raises for our teachers, reduced class sizes, equity for older schools, gifted and talented programs, more technology, textbooks, school library books and perhaps even a new school here and there if it is justified (with state funding).

Superintendent of Schools Charles Ecker has said we do not have enough money to fund everything we would like. If we build a new Westminster-area high school, these important things will not happen, because our public education funding will be going to this school and Cranberry Station Elementary for years to come.

I ask our decision-makers to stop and think and answer the following critical questions: Are we doing school planning the right way? Shouldn't we stop now and, with citizen input, do a systemwide school needs plan that is fair to all regions of this county before moving further along?

By refusing to fund our new school projects, the state is sending us a very clear message -- that we must work within the confines of the state process, as do other counties which receive state funding for new schools year after year.

Why do we refuse to do it the state's way, when we know that this would lead to state funding for our new schools?

I ask all the citizens of this county who agree with me to please let our decision-makers know you support sensible school planning.

Michele Johnson

Mount Airy

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