Carroll board expected to vote on new school

Superintendent wants to ease county's crowding

September 13, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Parents and students have pleaded, and the school superintendent has backed them with his recommendation. Now it is up to Carroll County's school board to decide whether building the county's eighth high school is the answer to alleviating crowding at North Carroll High.

The 28-year-old building, constructed for 1,360 students, had an enrollment of 1,712 late last week. Enrollment is projected to hit 1,850 students by the 2007-2008 school year. The earliest a new school could open is fall 2008, when North Carroll is projected to be about 40 percent over capacity.

At a special meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at North Carroll High in Hampstead, board members are expected to vote on schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker's recommendation to build a high school.

"I really think the only real options ... are a new school or additions," said Ecker, who made his recommendation in June. "A new school is needed to relieve crowding at North Carroll, Winters Mill and Westminster" high schools.

While he said he had no idea what the board's decision will be, he remains optimistic it will approve the new school.

During the past year, the question of how to deal with the crowded conditions at North Carroll has been the topic of debates, meetings and letter-writing campaigns.

Hundreds of parents and students have filled school board meetings to press their case and have peppered board members with e-mails and letters. The superintendent formed a committee to evaluate the issue.

Everyone seems to agree that something needs to be done about the crowding - not just at North Carroll, but across the county - especially in light of predictions that residential development will continue to boost enrollments.

But there is no firm consensus among board members.

"Some board members have raised very good, hard questions," said C. Scott Stone, board president. "I'm hopeful ... the board will agree with the superintendent's recommendation."

The board's biggest issues appear to be how to fund the school - potentially without state assistance - and where to build it.

Building the school is estimated to cost $45 million. To qualify for state assistance, school officials must demonstrate that the school would be 50 percent full at its opening and at capacity within five years.

Because the county school system calculates capacity using a different formula than the state, Maryland school officials may not accept Carroll's assessment that a new school is needed. If the state agrees to help fund a school, it typically provides about 65 percent of approved costs, mainly building expenditures.

"The state would probably [help fund building additions], but that reduces options for dealing with overcrowding within a couple years," Ecker said.

While additions at the three high schools would cost less than building a new one, he said, increasing the capacity to 1,800 students would result in schools that are too large and less manageable for faculty and students.

However, some officials are concerned that if the projections don't bear out, the system will have a school it can't fill.

"People don't understand that you're only going to get money for the [students] you have in the school," said board member Susan G. Holt. She said fewer funds from the state could mean fewer educational resources - such as teachers and course offerings - for students at a new school.

Another issue is where to build a school.

"I know North Carroll has to be relieved," Holt said. "I've looked at everything - projected enrollment, projected growth - and I think a new high school should be planned.

"But I think the proper placement of that high school needs to be ... where it would best serve the community countywide," Holt said. She said consideration should be given to reducing the reach of Winters Mill in Westminster, which draws students from near the Pennsylvania line.

Another board member, Laura K. Rhodes, said her concern is that North Carroll is not the only pressing need.

"This is not the only overcrowded school," she said. "It's a very overcrowded school - I'm not denying that."

Rhodes said the board needs to consider "every avenue and all the projects" before deciding whether to pursue building a new high school.

Meanwhile, parents are gearing up for tomorrow's meeting by sending e-mails and letters to others, urging them to attend wearing "the North Carroll High school colors of red and black with pride."

"We are asking that the members of this community come to the meeting to show Dr. Ecker that they support his recommendation," Carmela Guthart, president of the North Carroll Middle parent-teacher organization, wrote in a letter sent home with students last week.

She has told parents they do not have to speak at the meeting - their numbers will make an impression.

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