Based on Superintendent Steve Guthrie's assertion that CCPS personnel do not have the expertise to study closing facilities, the Board of Education stopped the school system’s comprehensive facilities study in its tracks and called for a "repurposing" meeting with the board of Carroll County commissioners.
After a cumbersome presentation outlining facility use and options at Wednesday evening's board of education meeting, Guthrie announced that his staff has expertise in educating students, not closing facilities.
"I put a rush on this, I wanted to get it done, but when I look at the end product, I’m not comfortable with the selection criteria to make sure we did it the right way," Guthrie said. "There was a better way to go about this than the way we’ve done it because we're not experts in this area."
During the county budget cycle in the spring, the board of commissioners requested that the school system conduct a comprehensive facilities study to "assess the need for and proper utilization of the school facilities across the county over the next 10 years."
Guthrie put together a team to move forward with the study, which included a community survey. Guthrie said earlier this week that he intended to present options at Wednesday's meeting for cost savings options related to facilities, which many expected would include school closures after rumors circulated recently about Liberty High School closing.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild has been vocal recently in suggesting that closing schools would be the “fiscally responsible” thing to do in light of declining enrollment numbers.
Guthrie told Commissioner Doug Howard that he wants to "change courses in midstream." He suggested that a third-party consultant be hired to complete the study started by CCPS and that the board of education and board of commissioners revisit the project and discussion at a joint meeting already scheduled for Jan. 9.
Howard, ex-officio member of the board of education, responded by saying he sees no compelling reason to close schools, but that it is important to complete the facilities study so that data confirms his belief. He agreed that it would be prudent to hire a firm to complete the study, although he said the boards would have to discuss who would pay for the study.
"I do think at this point there is nothing to suggest, no data and no compelling evidence that there would be a net savings in closing a school or system-wide redistricting," Howard said.
"This is not to discredit the process … but an internal process on an accelerated timetable with little public input does not even begin to rise to the level of scrutiny that we should put before this kind of a decision as it relates to the community," Howard said.
The board of education decided it would make no further action in regards to the facilities study, but would instead wait to meet with the board of commissioners in December or January to discuss the study, its purpose and criteria.
Board of Education President Jennifer Seidel encouraged citizens to stay engaged and to be vocal about where they want their tax dollars spent, but said there is no reason to panic about schools closing in Carroll County. Seidel and several other board of education members said they don’t see closing schools as a viable solution for cost-savings or efficiency.
"We have created panic in our community ... a lot has changed between April when we started this discussion and now, and the conversation has spun out of control," Seidel said. "It’s really important now more than ever as elected officials we really need to hear from the public."