Cumberland Times-News

Editorials

April 1, 2014

Attitude toward public education is the problem

Two recent letters to the editor suggested that the Allegany County School Board rescind its vote to build a new Allegany High School given the limited local funding provided by the Allegany County commissioners (“Why not  eliminate the cafeteria, too? That will save money,” March 30 Times-News; “New school is a bad hand; now is time to fold it,” March 26.)

Both letter writers pointed out the ridiculous notion of having a high school with no auditorium, inadequate classroom space and no practice fields.

Good points, all. But questions should be asked of the county commissioners, who announced the local contribution to the project before any real costs had been calculated.

Can we afford more? Yes. The county has a $20 million reserve fund. Floating a bond and repaying it over time is plausible.

However, these commissioners are less interested in governing than in using their power to provide for supporters (marriage fee increase for the Historic Cemetery Organization) while hindering their perceived enemies (underfunding school board requests).

Those caught in the crossfire — county children — are merely collateral damage.

That the new building is necessary is irrefutable — the current Allegany is untenable. This winter, the coal-fired boilers could not heat the building. Students routinely wore their coats all day.

Teachers donned outdoor attire in their classrooms, many of which never reached 60 degrees. These same classrooms will see temperatures over 90 degrees in late spring and early fall. Both extremes create a less than productive learning environment.

Last year a wind gust blew a large window into the school, exploding glass and framework into the hallway.

Just a few weeks ago, the power at Allegany went off for 20 or 30 minutes during the school day. The cause has yet to be determined. In the past, tiles have dropped from the ceiling randomly, sometimes striking students.

Staying in this building would require a massive financial investment. Building a new school made the most sense, fiscally and spatially. Some want to see Allegany closed and its students either sent to Fort Hill, or split between Fort Hill and Mountain Ridge.

Allegany’s students will not fit into Fort Hill. They also won’t fit into Fort Hill and Mountain Ridge if split between those schools. The alterations needed to adequately house Allegany’s students in either scenario would shift the financial burden from state to county coffers.

If you think constructing the new school at a 93 percent state, 7 percent local split too expensive, imagine the local taxpayer cost of retrofitting the existing schools to accommodate the addition of hundreds of students.

That cost would be borne almost exclusively by Allegany County.

Given the stance of our commissioners, I’m sure they think a sea of trailer-classrooms on the practice fields at the receiving school(s) would suffice. Inadequate facilities for the new populations — gymnasiums, cafeterias, libraries, science labs, etc. — would be fine by them. Our children can do without.

The commissioners clearly don’t care about Allegany’s students, so do not assume that they care about anyone else’s.

Allegany County needs to elect commissioners who understand their job involves prudent and adequate investment in local infrastructure.

Recently, I spoke with two families new to the area who visited schools before deciding where to locate.

After touring Allegany High School, both families purchased homes in West Virginia. Both families indicated that any community that would allow children to be housed in such a dilapidated, crumbling structure clearly has little interest in the quality of its school system, or the education provided therein.

It wasn’t Maryland taxes that drove them across the river, it was Allegany County’s collective attitude toward public education.

Those families went elsewhere. I suspect they aren’t the first, and won’t be the last.

Kimi-Scott McGreevy

Cumberland

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