Board tables naming of new school

Despite delay, Ecker says plans for northeast school are still on

February 18, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

A decision to postpone a school-board agenda item has created a stir among parents in the northeastern part of Carroll County.

The board had been scheduled to ask the public to submit names for the new northeast area high school. Meant to relieve Hampstead's overcrowded North Carroll High, the school was the second item on the district's capital improvement program budget requests for the 2008 fiscal year - after Ebb Valley Elementary, located in the Manchester area.

But a decision at a Jan. 24 board meeting to table the request has raised concerns that the high school will not be built.

"This item was removed from the agenda because there is concern for the 2008 fiscal budget," stated an unsigned letter that was handed out in some area schools. "The new high school is in jeopardy of being removed from the budget."

But county and school officials have said that is not true.

Although the northeast-area high school has to draw on local funding - enrollment projections for the region do not meet state contribution standards - officials say plans for it have not been stalled. Still, they are carefully observing student numbers to determine whether declines in enrollment are a trend or a short-term aberration.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're moving forward with this school," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said.

Gouge added that the commissioners have to work out budget details.

The recommended budget will not be presented until next month, with a proposed version to follow in April, said Ted Zaleski, county director of management and budget.

"There's still a good ways to go before there's anything to say," Zaleski said. Each school project must be considered in light of the whole school construction program, he said.

The board of education's decision on soliciting school names last month was driven by a desire to keep an eye on enrollment projections and develop a stronger sense of what is needed in the northeast area and beyond, board President Gary Bauer said.

Building the school has nothing to do with the 2007-2008 operating budget up for a vote Wednesday, Bauer said. The decision on construction could come up when he and other board members review the capital budget later this year.

Such consideration is also important because funding for the nearly $70 million project would come solely from the local level, he said, with no state support or reimbursement.

"It's a big budget item for the county," Bauer said. "It needs to be given a lot of [thought] before we jump into the project."

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said the state judged capacity based on region, not individual schools. The region that includes North Carroll High also contains Winters Mill and Westminster High schools.

While North Carroll is predicted to be at 128.5-percent capacity in the next school year, Westminster would only be at 93.8 percent, and Winters Mill at 103.3 percent - numbers that are likely to go down in years to come, according to projections.

"In the region, we're not near the 120 percent," Ecker said, referring to the amount above capacity the area must reach for state contributions. The state usually requires 50 percent of a new school's capacity in the first year it opens.

Ecker said the northeast-area high school remains "in the budget to go forward."

The school board voted in favor of rough layout sketches for the new building in December.

And the county commissioners recently approved buying about 25 acres of land for the school in the Manchester area.

The settlement on that land is coming up this month, Gouge said.

Construction for the high school would begin in July, once funds are available, said Raymond Prokop, the district's director of facilities.

On that schedule, the school would be set to open for the 2009-2010 school year.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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