(4/5) Parents, students, and staff from
Emmitsburg Elementary School put on their blue school T-shirts for the public
hearing on school construction projects on March 27. Approximately 25 EES
supporters were among hundreds who came to Frederick’s Weinberg Center for the
Arts to show their colors and air their concerns before four members of the
Frederick County Commissioners. Commissioners Jan Gardner, John L. Thompson,
Kai Hagen, and Charles Jenkins attended the meeting, which was moved to the
Weinberg Center from Winchester Hall because of renovations at the county
building. Citizen turnout at last year’s meetings was so large that the hearing
room at Winchester Hall could not accommodate them all, said a speaker from
Linganore High School. Commissioner David Gray was out of the county inspecting
Before public comment began, Gardner and
County Finance Division Director John Kroll addressed the issue of financing
for pending school construction projects. The recommended budget for fiscal
year 2008 totals over $882 million, of which 42 percent is allotted to the
Board of Education. The cost of school construction, said Gardner, is
increasing “at a significant pace.” She and other commissioners have proposed a
$1 increase in the county’s current $5 recordation tax, which is paid on the
sale and transfer of homes. The increase would be dedicated to school
construction; about half would pay for replacement of Linganore High School.
With the tax increase, Linganore will be completed in 2009, while Emmitsburg
and three other elementary school additions will be finished in 2011. Without
the tax increase, Kroll emphasized, completion of Linganore High will be pushed
to 2011 and the EES addition bumped to 2013. In the timetable set in the
previous capital improvement program, the EES addition was to be completed in
Emmitsburg speakers were united in their
position that construction of the proposed addition to EES should take place on
the earlier schedule. Town Commissioners Chris Staiger and Glenn Blanchard were
first to comment on the local school. Each urged the commissioners to stick
with the earlier date for the project. Blanchard added his perspective as both
a teacher and the parent of a special-needs child who “will need the space for
one-on-one” interaction with instructors in order to succeed in school.
EES third-grade teacher Michael Hakkarinen,
parent of two students at the school, also brought a dual viewpoint in his
remarks. He spoke of the unpredictable nature of the HVAC system, which was
built to accommodate an open-classroom design in the 1970s. Hakkarinen
highlighted the “fairly outdated” technology which teachers must supplement
with their own equipment in order to provide a “first-class education” for
their students. “None of us,” he stressed, “push back test dates or
assessments…conferences or IEP meetings,” yet improvements to the building and
instructional upgrades have already been pushed back several times.
Hakkarinen’s son, Jaik, a first-grader,
offered a kids-eye view of the building’s shortcomings. The cafeteria, he said,
“is always loud and full of people…[and] the library is loud just like the
cafeteria….Our school has over 300 kids, but we only have four bathrooms, two
for the boys and two for the girls.” He hopes the building is fixed before he
finishes attending there.
Building security and student safety were
primary concerns for parents Kate Zentz, Sharon Brent, and Tina Ridenour.
Visitors to the school can walk directly into the cafeteria, which contains two
of the four student bathrooms, and leads to the music and art classrooms, the
gym, and other classroom areas. Ridenour’s son is a fourth-grade student. His
classroom is a portable, and he will be in a portable again for fifth grade.
The ramp into the main building is not covered and is slippery when wet.
Ridenour noted that she attended the school herself, and that “it basically
hasn’t changed in 30 years.”
The commissioners will consider public
comment from the March 27 hearing at its meeting at Winchester Hall on the
morning of Monday, April 9. The public hearing on the proposed recordation tax
increase is scheduled for April 24, and Gardner advised that those who support
it should attend the meeting, because there is opposition to it from the real
estate industry. The CIP will next be considered on May 15, with a meeting to
adopt the CIP slated for June 5.
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