CUMBERLAND — A group of community members will take a hard look at enrollment trends in Allegany County public schools this winter as it begins the tedious process of helping determine the future for Cumberland’s aging secondary school buildings.

About a dozen citizens, along with half a dozen school administrators, met for an hour Monday night to get started. They left with a homework assignment, but no raw data to digest.

“We’re still crunching numbers,” said Carl Chafin, a partner and senior planner with Eperitus, the Richmond, Va., educational planning firm hired to facilitate the study.

“One of the cornerstones of the whole process is trying to get a handle on over the next five to 10 years, how many kids are we going to have in our school system here?” Chafin said. “How many kids are we going to have in the schools that are the focus of this group? And where do we think that enrollment’s going to go?”

With enrollment generally declining over the past several decades, the school board is charged with deciding how best to use existing structures, including Fort Hill and Allegany high schools, the Center for Career and Technical Education, and Washington and Braddock middle schools.

The community resource committee, appointed by Superintendent David Cox, includes students, parents, teachers, principals and community members from each of the schools. School administrators are serving on the committee in advisory roles.

The issues facing the committee are complex and emotional, said Joanne Huebner, vice president of Eperitus, which brings “a slew of objectivity” to the table since it isn’t a local firm.

“Dr. Cox shared with us the DVD of the NFL program that was on in 2007, and you can’t help but say, we’ve got a large task in front of us here,” Huebner said, referring to the fierce rivalry between Fort Hill and Allegany high schools.

“So we need to look at ... what is really important to the community? What are the best ways your facilities can continue to do great things for your community?”

Members of the committee were asked to consider a number of Indicators of Quality, or IOQs, weighing priorities in categories such as educational programming, building conditions, and fiscal responsibility, before the next meeting Jan. 25.

Eperitus plans to brief the Allegany County Board of Education about enrollment trends and building conditions at its regular meeting the second Tuesday in January. Plans to present information to the board at its regular December meeting were canceled to accommodate the funeral of board member Fred Sloan, who died last week.

Eperitus will work with committee members so that they understand how enrollment projections are calculated. The conversation won’t be one-sided, Chafin said.

“We will show you the nuts and bolts,” he said. “Here’s where we think your enrollment’s going to be. Here’s why. ... Let you all react to that. Let you say, ‘Well, you guys came all the way from Richmond, you might not know that here’s what’s going on in this part of our community. Or, here’s what I think. I’ve lived here all my life.’”

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at kharty@times-news.com.



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