Cumberland Times-News

October 24, 2013

Consolidation idea driven more by negative attitudes than facts

To the Editor:
Cumberland Times-News

— I was home-schooled through eighth grade and then transfered to Fort Hill for high school.

My education has taught me that if I want to express an opinion for the purpose of influencing a decision, then I need to speak up before the decision is made (not almost four years after the decision was finalized)!

This is why my father and I paid attention through the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2010 to all the publicity about the committee charged with investigating and deciding the future of secondary schools in Cumberland. He and I were two of 26 people who spoke at the public hearing before a crowd of more than 100 attendees.

Of the topics discussed by the speakers, not one mentioned the traditional sports rivalry. Almost everyone referenced recent studies that show that the best results are produced by schools with enrollment between 600 and 1,000 students. We heard the committee report that enrollment trends show that population decline has stabilized and enrollment growth is projected for the future.

That public hearing was held April 24, 2010. I was a ninth-grader at the time. It amazes me that 3½ years later people are still expressing the opinion that Allegany and Fort Hill should be or inevitably will be consolidated due to dropping enrollment. That opinion is driven more by negative attitudes than by facts.

Is there any evidence yet that the committee and the Board of Education were right? Yes! Since the decision was made to keep Allegany and Fort Hill separate and build a new Allegany, here is what enrollment statistics for the last three years show: Allegany has grown from 710 students in 2011 to 730 in 2012 and to 852 today; Fort Hill has grown from 712 students in 2011 to 800 in 2012 and to 907 today; and Mountain Ridge has grown from 796 students in 2011 to 870 in 2012 and to 951 today.

In terms of growth rate, over the past three years, Mountain Ridge has increased enrollment of 19 percent, Allegany has grown by 20 percent, and Fort Hill has grown by 27 percent.

My parents tell me that during the recent parent-teacher conference day they were told by my 11th-grade sister's psychology teacher that last year she had 34 students in two psychology classes and this year she has 75 students in 3 psychology classes. Three of my 9th-grade sister's teachers told them that she is in classes of 28 to 30 students.

If the new Allegany building is being designed to house 800 students, then it will probably be overcrowded as soon as it opens! This would be similar to the situation faced by Mountain Ridge today.

It is my belief that any use of declining school enrollment to justify the consolidation of Fort Hill and Allegany is not a just argument.

The situation facing Allegany County Schools is not consolidation, but rather dealing with the overcrowding of Mountain Ridge and the possibility of constructing a new Allegany, only to have it outgrow its new building.

If we were to merge Fort Hill and Allegany, we would have a new high school with over 1,760 students (a number that would be very difficult to house at the Fort Hill campus, thus requiring a new location).

Fort Hill would not be Fort Hill without Allegany!

Michael Andrew Mudge

Cumberland