The following comments were made on January 14th by Kim Holcomb, president of the John Archer School PTA, to the Board of Education at a public input session on the school system’s budget for next year. The public input session was held by the Board at the A. A. Roberty Building in Bel Air. The text below was provided to The Dagger for publication:
First I would like to wish all our Board of Education members a very Happy and Healthy New Year and thank the Board for holding public input meetings and seeking community input in developing the Operating budget for 2014. Our PTA would also like to extend congratulations to my neighbor Mr. Kaff on being appointed to the Harford County Board of Education. We hope you find your service to Harford County Public Schools to be a positive and rewarding experience.
As we have attended and spoken at both Public Input Sessions that Dr. Tomback scheduled, we are asking for support from the board on our request for an updated scope study to be conducted for our proposed new JAS to be included in the Operating budget for 2014.
John Archer School is the only public school in Harford County that exclusively serves the needs of children with severe and profound disabilities from ages 3 to 21. Our current school is over 40 years old and our school building was not designed to meet the needs for the population of special needs students the building is now serving. The instructional needs as well as the support service requirements of the students at our school have changed dramatically since the construction of our original building.
Our original scope study was started in 2006 and completed in the fall 2009 by Smolen, Emr & Associate Architects in Rockville, MD. The proposed new JAS school building site location is the Bel Air Middle – Homestead-Wakefield Campus. This site was chosen due to being centralized in Harford County as well as the proximity to the hospital as many of our special needs children have severe medical conditions requiring medical transport to an emergency room. Also at that time, Maryland State Department of Education required any new school for special needs children had to be physically attached to another school. It could not be a stand-alone building. A simultaneous scope study was performed for the Homestead-Wakefield site which accommodated a new JA school.
Since 2009, there have been changes from the MSDE that no longer require a special needs school to be attached to another school. We can have a stand-alone building better suited to meet the student’s needs. There are several key elements in our original scope study that need to be considered as well. Having closer access to hospital emergency services than our current location on Thomas Run Road is very important and having inclusionary activities with the immediately surrounding schools including elementary, middle and high school levels. Based on these factors, there should also be an updated cost on construction for this project based on the building specifications that have already been completed in the original scope and addressing the fact that we do not have to be physically attached to another school. We are also requesting a site re-evaluation to see if there is another central location in Harford County that would better meet these important requirements.
We need your support and we hope you will include a new scope study for John Archer School in your Fiscal Year 2014 Operating budget.
Lastly, I want to thank Dr. Tomback for spending the day at our school back in October, Mr. Thornton for visiting our school several months ago and Ms. Teresa Schmid, BOE Secretary for forwarding our PTA’s invitation to all BOE Members to come and tour our school back in early December. As some of our board members are new, we welcome all of you to come and tour our school and get a better perspective of our special needs students, their educational needs and see a school “Where all Students Experience Success!”
Thank you for your consideration this evening.