Harford County Board of Education President Patrick L. Hess and Interim Superintendent Patricia L. Skebeck said in a letter dated April 27th that school boundaries will be adjusted countywide if an agreement cannot be reached in the debate over which new elementary school will be built to relieve overcrowding in the greater Bel Air area.
The letter also provided an explanation for the school board’s latest decision to stick with Campus Hills Elementary, despite a compromise of sorts that had been reached with County Executive David Craig and the Harford County Council to proceed with Red Pump.
While the letter was addressed to no one in particular, it was written under Hess’ name, signed by both Hess and Skebeck, and emailed to the members of the Harford County Council along with the principals of the overcrowded elementary schools caught in the crossfire. But the letter ends with a statement which may draw other elementary schools into the fray:
“I can assure you that we will continue to work with the County Council and County Executive to bring resolution to this issue and to have a functioning new elementary school in the best location at the earliest possible date. Should we be unable to reach agreement, we will proceed with the comprehensive restricting effort and make the necessary boundary adjustments countywide to reach our goals.”
What’s striking is that the letter also says that the board considers the best location to be Campus Hills, in part because it would minimize redistricting. But the passage above seems to indicate the board is prepared to redistrict countywide and live without either new school, rather than redistrict students to fill Red Pump.
Elsewhere in the letter, arguments in favor of Campus Hills are reiterated which have been countered by a report from the county council in favor of Red Pump. New to the debate is an explanation for the school board’s April 20th decision to transfer funding from the capital account for Red Pump to Campus Hills, after Hess said he would support Red Pump if it was the only school the council would continue to fund. In exchange, the county council was to transfer the deed for Campus Hills to the board for future use. The compromise was expected to break a stalemate that has put plans for either new school on hold for the past 5 months.
To explain why the deal was off, Hess and Skebeck raised questions about the septic service at Red Pump:
“The County Council representative further asserted that the Council would fully fund the construction of a septic system of some type and that there was no legal reason to delay the construction of the required pumping station by the developer in time for the opening of the school. We have determined through further investigation that there are, in fact, legal issues related to the permanent pumping station construction and connection to the school. You can understand our trepidation when information presented as factual was later found to be inaccurate. We do not believe it to be prudent to accept a proposal with so many issues and inconsistencies attached to it.”
That prompted the following rebuttal and request for a retraction from County Council Vice President Richard Slutzky:
One interesting new argument for Campus Hills includes a reference to Maryland state law indicating that local school boards are responsible for determining school locations and that the council “should fulfill its legal responsibility by providing the appropriate funding, if available, to the Board of Education. To do otherwise would set a dangerous precedent in the functions and operations of this local Board of Education and all others in the state of Maryland.”
What is not explained is how it is a usurpation of the school board’s authority for the county council to maintain a funding stream for Red Pump that had been initiated and sustained at the board’s request. County records indicate that local funding has been approved for Red Pump Elementary every year since FY06.
Here is the full text of the letter:
Unaware of the letter from Hess and Skebeck at the time, Prospect Mill Elementary School parents wore green shirts to send a message at the Board of Education meeting Monday. In the words of PTA President Allison Heiderman, “Green is for go – go build a school”.