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Garrett schools may be closed

Board scheduled to vote in March on Kitzmiller, Bloomington Elementary fates

Megan Miller
Cumberland Times-News Thu Sep 16, 2010, 08:05 AM EDT

— OAKLAND — Kitzmiller and Bloomington elementary schools could be closed permanently at the end of the 2010-11 school year, depending on the outcome of a March vote by the Garrett County Board of Education.

Schools Superintendent Wendell Teets formally recommended the two elementary schools for closure during Wednesday night’s school board meeting, which was held at Southern Middle School to accommodate the approximately 80 members of the public who gathered for the announcement.

“I deeply regret the necessity of these recommended actions,” Teets said. “None of us wants to be in this position or could have anticipated these actions even two years ago.”

Teets presented his recommendations as an information item for the board, which is not scheduled to vote on the issue until March. None of the board members commented on the proposal.

The recommendations, Teets said, are based on input from all central office staff within the school system.

“These schools have the highest costs of operation per student and low attendance,” he explained.

Teets said that, in the current school year, it costs $425,761 to operate Bloomington Elementary and $409,405 for Kitzmiller, for a total of $835,166.

Under the proposal, Bloomington students would be moved to Broad Ford Elementary, and Kitzmiller students would attend Yough Glades Elementary.

Four people gave public comment on the issue after Teets’ announcement, including Piedmont, W.Va., resident Greg Harvey, who pointed to the towns of Piedmont and Westernport as cautionary tales of what can happen in the wake of community school closures.

Harvey said he grew up in Bloomington and now operates the Tri-Towns Basketball League out of the school facility. “It is going to be an effect on the community along with the kids in the school,” he said of the proposed closure. “We need to give families a reason to come to these places, not a reason to leave. … Anything we gain by closing that school financially, this county’s going to lose.”

Longterm financial concerns are the reason the measure is necessary, according to Teets. He said repeatedly that the closures would help the school system reduce spending without eliminating programs that benefit all students countywide.

“If we had sufficient funding to meet our … needs, I would not be making any such recommendation this year,” he said.

Garrett County Schools are facing a $1 million state funding reduction for the second year in a row. That’s because two years ago, the state changed its aid formula to be reflective of counties’ enrollment, and Garrett’s enrollment is steadily declining.

As of Sept. 8, Garrett County is down 99 students compared to September 2009. Teets said state figures project the decline to continue through 2019.

The school system forced a $700,000 carryover from the last fiscal year to balance this year’s budget, but it’s unlikely to be able to accomplish that again for the upcoming year.

While Garrett County schools stand to receive about $832,000 over the next four years in federal Race to the Top funding, those dollars are dedicated specifically to innovation and improvement programs.

Teets said he will appoint advisory committees for Bloomington and Kitzmiller within the next week. The committees, made up of parents, school representatives and community members, will report back to Teets and the school board after assessing the pros and cons of school closure through areas like building condition, transportation, student relocations, and the impact on the surrounding community.

The board will also conduct public hearings in November at both of the schools being considered for closure. The hearings schedule will be set in the board’s October meeting.

Contact Megan Miller at mmiller@times-news.com.

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