Board also expects to take up futures of 7 southern elementary facilities
OAKLAND — A few major changes could be coming for Garrett County public schools, as the board of education considers ways to cut spending in the face of state funding reductions.
About 40 students take advantage of a policy that allows Garrett children living in specific parts of the county to attend school across the county line at nearby Allegany facilities, rather than travel farther from home to Garrett schools.
Board member James Raley said the policy has been in place since the consolidated Northern Garrett High School was built in the 1950s, to spare students in northeastern parts of the county from long commutes in the days before Interstate 68 was built.
But Superintendent Wendell Teets said the school board is considering changing the policy because declining enrollment and other factors have reduced the school system’s state funding, leaving the system to wrestle with a significant budget shortfall.
“We pay tuition and provide transportation for those students to go to Allegany County schools,” Teets said. “Ultimately, by changing this policy, we would eliminate the busing expenses, the payments to Allegany, and gain state aid by keeping those students in Garrett schools. So that’s a significant amount of funding.”
The proposed change would still allow students in grades six and above who already attend Allegany schools to continue through graduation. It would also allow their younger siblings to attend an Allegany school if they’d be in the same building as the older sibling. New students who move into Garrett County would not be eligible to attend an Allegany school, regardless of their grade level.
On March 2, the board will hold a 7 p.m. meeting at Northern Middle School in Accident to hear input from the public on the change. Teets said he expects that to be the only such meeting held before the board makes its final decision on the policy change.
In the coming months, the board will also consider the futures of seven elementary schools in the southern part of the county. Changes there could mean renovations for some schools and closures for others.
“We need to take a hard look at our budget, enrollment and facility capacities and make some decisions on the most effective use of our resources,” Teets said.
A committee will be formed to study all seven schools, the board decided in its Monday meeting. Teets said the board will make a final decision on the committee formation in March, but it will probably include members of the public as well as school officials. The committee’s study will likely go on for several months.
“The study committee will take an objective look at what’s happening and make recommendations,” Teets said. Any changes suggested by the study committee would then be studied by another committee at each individual school.
“In these hard economic times we have to look at programs to support schools in our county,” Teets said. “And we need to protect our programs in Garrett County.”