The Baltimore County Public Schools administration is refuting allegations from Eastwood Elementary School parents that it acted improperly in an effort to consolidate three Dundalk schools.
The proposed merger between Eastwood, Holabird Middle School and Norwood Elementary School would result in the closure of Eastwood.
"I feel like I was left out of the process," said Dan Ricci, an Eastwood parent, at a December Board of Education meeting. "I don't know if there were laws broken...certainly something unethical and unprofessional must have happened."
Superintendent Dallas Dance recommended to the board at a Jan. 22 meeting that the three schools should operate as one kindergarten through eighth STEM magnet program at the Norwood and Holabird facilities starting in the 2013-2014 school year. Mychael Dickerson, a school system spokesman, said Dance and his adminstration followed Code of Maryland Regulations guidelines in crafting the recommendation, but there is no policy for closing a school building.
William Reinhard, a Maryland State Department of Education spokesman, said there are state regulations to follow once the decision to close a school is made, but it's ultimately up to the discretion of a each local school jurisdiction to close a school.
During a series of recent board meetings, Eastwood parents accused the school system of bending to the will of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is working to sell property to construct new county facilities. The Eastwood property may be used to build a new police precinct.
Deputy Superintendent Kevin Hobbs raised eyebrows at a mid-December 2012 community meeting by saying that the Eastwood facility would close. Dickerson clarified that Hobbs was only speaking for the school administration, not the Board of Education, the school system's governing body.
"At that time, [Hobbs] was talking about conversations with the county," said Dickerson, who pointed out that discourse between the county and school system about underutilized buildings, particularly the under capacity Holabird Middle School, began in August 2012. "It is within his right to [speak for the administration]...he was never implying that a final decision was made."
Board President Lawrence Schmidt emphasized the separation between the county, school administration and itself during the Jan. 22 meeting.
"This board, as an independent board, will follow the process and procedures to determine and ultimately vote ... on what course we take," Schmidt said.
Dickerson said the administration is planning for the Eastwood facility closure ahead of the board's decision because it wants to make Eastwood's magnet program available to more students in the Dundalk area starting next school year. He said there is currently a waiting list to enroll. A figure for the number of students on the waiting list was not immediately available.
A public hearing on the consolidation is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 12 at Dundalk High School.
The Board of Education will vote on the matter on March 5.
Hobbs also said in December that the merger was not indicative of a countywide trend.