Concern over school facilities review draws Liberty High supporters to forum

Commissioners' event in South Carroll focuses on enrollment decline, potential for school closures

September 27, 2012|By Katie V. Jones

In the packed house at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center in Eldersburg this past Wednesday, Sept. 27, there was only one question on the minds of those in the crowd:

"Is Liberty High School closing?"

Rumors about Liberty High being tapped for closure brought people out to a Sept. 27 education forum hosted by County Commissioners Haven Shoemaker and Doug Howard, many shouting from the seats their concerns about the high school's fate.

Currently, Carroll County Public Schools is undergoing a review of school facilities and operations in the light of figures that show declining enrollments. That process has heightened concern that a high school, or other schools, might be closed or declared surplus.

County officials say the need to assess school operations is because fewer students means less dollars from the state based on its formula for spending per pupil.

Without some change, the county school system will see less money because of fewer students, but the same expense in terms of facilities.

On Wednesday, both Howard and Shoemaker told the crowd of PTA leaders and citizens that they did not know what, if any, schools the Carroll County Board of Education might recommend for closing. Liberty is not considered an underenrolled school — in fact, Manchester Valley and North Carroll are the high schools that are currently the most below capacity, according to CCPS figures.

Howard, whose children have been and are still, students at Liberty, tried to allay fears by assuring the crowd he had not heard mention of Liberty.

"I have not heard one serious suggestion that Liberty High School be closed," said Howard, president of the Board of County Commissioners and the representative of the 1st District, which includes Sykesville and Eldersburg.

"I am concerned about closing any school anywhere," he said.

At a meeting on Oct. 10, the Board of Education is scheduled to present a variety of options that might help offset expenses over the next several years.

Shoemaker, who hosted another forum earlier in the week in Hampstead, told residents at the South Carroll meeting that one option will likely include closing two or three of the county's 43 schools — a move that would require some redistricting. Shoemaker said other options may include closing Hashawa Environmental Center in Westminster, cutting back media centers or even staff reductions.

CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie has said the staff report in October will not contain recommendations, but would present options the school board and commissioners may consider to pursue in a public forum.

Those suggestions will be based on a survey it sent out in June, which received 5,320 responses.

Once the Board of Education presents its options, it will send out another survey to gather input, the commissioners said. The school board will then meet with the commissioners on Jan. 9, 2013, to talk about what options to pursue.

From there, if a proposal to close one or more school is formalized, there would be public hearings scheduled. Any school the Board of Education recommends closing must be approved by the State Board of Education before it can be closed.

But Howard urged the crowd to take action now, and asked, "Why are we going down this path at all?"

"People who care about education need to speak up right now," he said. "The Board of Education and Board of (County) Commissioners need to hear it loud and clear."

Howard said that if a school is closed, it is not clear if the school can be reopened in the future, or what the fate of the building would be. He also said that while school population is going down now, projections show it leveling out, and then slowly rising again.

"Carroll County is making its biggest effort ever to build up commerce," Howard said. "Success ... will bring families."

Howard challenged the crowd to learn how candidates for the Board of Education elections stand on the issues.

He invited everyone to attend the commissioners meetings to talk about education. And he encouraged residents to write the Board of Education members and the commissioners.

Thomas Clowes, principal of Liberty High School, attended the forum as well, and told the crowd that if Liberty High's name winds up being on the list released Oct. 10, a meeting would be held Oct. 11 to create a plan of action.

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