Updated: Mar 29, 2020
AS REPORTED IN THE GARRETT COUNTY REPUBLICAN
The possibilities of school closings and consolidation were among several options presented to the school board Tuesday evening.
In response to a list of problems Garrett County Public Schools is facing, Superintendent Barbara Baker gave a number of solutions that would address one of the problem areas identified in the Reforming, Innovating & Strengthening for Excellence strategic plan update.
A list of the 10 most-pressing issues facing the school system was developed over the summer, chief of which was finding the means to “address flat to declining revenue in an inflationary environment.”
One of the 10 items on the list was the goal of addressing “the schools with low capacities, high-deferred maintenance costs to create a footprint of facilities that are well maintained, efficient, equitable and most importantly safe for instruction.”
On Tuesday, Baker presented a number of suggestions from committees of school personnel to create such a footprint, most of which referred to “grade band alignment” or “grade band arrangement” — changing the number of grades that would be taught in each school:
• Revise the current grade band arrangement in most schools to two grade bands: pre-K through sixth and seventh through 12th grades.
• Revise the current grade band arrangement in most schools to three grade bands: pre-K through second, third through sixth, and seventh through 12th.
Baker said the model could be rearranged to suit the board’s needs, such as having schools with grades 3-7 and 8-12.
• Make no changes to grade band alignment: pre-K through fifth, sixth through eighth, and ninth through 12th. Swan Meadow, which has all grades through eighth, would remain unchanged.
Baker said remaining with this model for the schools could mean the elimination or addition of some programs.
• Create regional grade bands based on enrollment and building capacity.
The superintendent said this option would allow for the flexibility of having different grade combinations for schools in the northern and southern areas of the county. It could also allow for redistricting, she said.
• Create a consolidated comprehensive high school.
“I’ve had lots of people talk to me about this particular option alternate in the public,” Baker said. “Right now, it is just an option the board may want to consider.”
Far from being realities, each of the suggestions will be considered further by subcommittees that will be made up of central office staff, school board members, teachers, principals, students and members of the public.
“As we do the work group … they will look at the options, the benefits, the challenges and the barriers to each of these grade band alternates,” Baker said.
The objective of the subcommittees is to perform their own analysis of each of the options to identify the “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,” she said. They also will prepare a list of advantages, challenges and barriers for each grade-band alignment.
Baker said there will be plenty of opportunity for public feedback, as well.
“We know we will be getting additional feedback as we move thought this process about what each of these grade bands may mean down the line, as far as the one high school, the consolidation, the redistricting — or maybe we just look at programs. Right now, everything is still on the table as we look at these options,” Baker said.
There will be plans for a roundtable community forum to “openly discuss each of these options, and all of the implications of each one, whether it’s consolidations, redistricting, program elimination — what each one of these would mean to the communities which we serve,” she said.
Board Vice President Nathan Sorber said the need for the public to participate in the process is vital.
“If you look in the past at some of the decisions that were made in regard to long-term strategy, I think there were a lot of questions left in the community — ‘Why are you choosing this and not something else?’” Sorber said. “I think what this presents us as a community is to allow some different major ideas of possible re-envisioning of our future, and look at them in a comprehensive and transparent way.”
Board member Tom Woods asked Baker to outline the time-frame “to get to an end product.”
In October, she said, officials will present all of the factors that are influencing the different grade band alignments and compile the feedback from the public.
“In November, (we will) take all of that feedback, realign any decisions that we want to make for possible adoption either in November in December,” Baker said, with the preference being for December to give as much time as possible to generate feedback from community forums and other means of response.
“And it also impacts our budget process immediately,” Woods said.
“Yes,” Baker agreed. “If the option is to do nothing with the grade bands, then we have to look at other options for long-term sustainability.