CUMBERLAND - A firm hired by the Allegany County Board of Education to study all the school facilities in the county is recommending the merger of two schools in the Westmar district.

CUMBERLAND - A firm hired by the Allegany County Board of Education to study all the school facilities in the county is recommending the merger of two schools in the Westmar district.
The board had contracted with Facility Engineering Associates (FEA) in November 2017 to conduct a facility utilization study and analysis of the schools, and three recommended actions to create efficiencies and savings to annual operating costs were presented to the Blue Ribbon Commission at their May 16, 2018 meeting.
    FEA previously reported, after review of enrollment and geographic data, conducting a facility condition and needs assessment, and educational adequacy appraisal, that ACPS has excess elementary school capacity that is equivalent of one additional school per each high school attendance area.
Among the recommendations was to close Georges Creek Elementary in Midland and move the students to Westmar Middle School in Lonaconing, which would become a K-8 school.
    “We predict that the current elected board will not take action on the recommendations this calendar year,” said school board president Dr. Sara-Beth Bittinger.
“We felt it necessary to initiate the study, and expect that the findings will help to guide future decision making.”
    Superintendent of schools Dr. David Cox stated, “The Allegany County Board of Education is committed to a very thoughtful consideration of these recommendations and to constituent input. Under no circumstances could a recommendation to close any school in the district be considered or undertaken for the upcoming 2018-2019 academic year.”
Maryland law provides clear guidance when school closures are considered, and that process will take at least a year’s worth of discussions.
    The recommended actions, in order of priority, would be to close Parkside Elementary School in the Central Region; close Georges Creek Elementary School in the Western Region; and rebalance student populations by adjusting attendance boundaries at Beall and Frost elementary schools.
FEA also advised the school system to monitor growth and enrollment projections at John Humbird Elementary School as a future consideration to increase efficiencies in the Eastern Region.
    In the Central Region, Cash Valley Elementary School was also a consideration for closure because of proximity; however, Parkside was the preferred option due to the ease in redistributing the student population within the same region to restore neighborhoods and update attendance boundaries.
In the Western Region, the most straightforward option from a capacity standpoint would be to relocate the Georges Creek population into Westmar Middle School to form a Pre-K through grade eight school. Finally, as an outcome of the study, FEA discovered that rebalancing student populations at Beall and Frost would help ease capacity and transportation issues at those schools.
    To allow public feedback and input regarding FEA’s findings, the Blue Ribbon Commission will host a public forum on Wednesday, May 30, 2018, at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Center for Career and Technical Education.
Additionally, FEA will present final recommendations to the school board during their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, at 4 p.m. at the Central Office.