John E. Fredericksen: We can’t improve education without local support

In the interest of transparency, please allow me to share some details for Wicomico County residents concerning the Dec. 2 Wicomico County Council vote to approve the County Executive’s revised bond bill. In this revised bond bill, the $1.25 million to draft plans for the replacement of West Salisbury Elementary School was eliminated.

County bond funding for planning would have helped demonstrate local support for this important project, for which state planning approval is pending.

We can leverage local dollars to get substantial state dollars to help build the schools our students, teachers, and families need, but only if we have local support.

We anticipate at least a year’s delay now in beginning the design of plans for this project as a result of the decision to remove funding from the bond bill.

That does not change the fact that West Salisbury Elementary students, staff and families need the improvements this project will bring:

·        Access to current instructional technology.

·        An environment conducive to learning.

·        Increased space for student learning and staff services.

·        Improved operational efficiencies.

·        Enhanced safety and security for all students and staff.

This is a project that has been in the works for many years. Additions to West Salisbury Elementary were recommended 16 years ago in the 1998 Seidel Commission Report.

Plans for a West Salisbury Elementary project have been in the Capital Improvement Plan and “Future Plans” section of the Facilities Master Plan each year since the Fiscal Year 2001 report, some 14 years ago.

These reports go to the Board of Education and County Council each year, and are available to the public.

Over time, the West Salisbury Elementary project has been repeatedly delayed due to deferrals in both state and county funding for other previous capital projects such as James M. Bennett High School and Bennett Middle School.

Project deferrals ripple out to slow down the entire Capital Improvement Plan schedule, and can impact that schedule many years into the future. This has occurred with West Salisbury Elementary, as well as with all of the other projects planned after it.

While planning and preparing for this replacement project, the school system has continued to perform appropriate and significant maintenance on the West Salisbury Elementary building over the years to help us keep the 50-year-old school in continuous service and functioning properly.

Over the years we have also implemented several major systemic projects on West Salisbury Elementary including roof replacements , boiler repairs, parking lot additions, and water system improvement to name a few. All maintenance inspections have been performed and documented in our records.

The 2011 MSDE (Maryland State Department of Education) maintenance report noted West Salisbury in the “good” category. The 2011 report from MABE (our insurance provider, Maryland Association of Boards of Education) also identified the school as having appropriate and timely maintenance.

West Salisbury Elementary is now set to be the next major school project, having waited behind the two Bennett building projects as the school system works to update facilities to effectively serve students, reduce overall costs, and cut maintenance and operating expenses.

A major feasibility study, completed with financial support from the county, supported replacement of West Salisbury over renovation and additions. A detailed educational specifications study laid the groundwork for designing the new school. Both studies were reviewed by the School Building Commission and recommended to the Board of Education.

The state supports the feasibility study and approved the education specifications.

This project received careful scrutiny prior to the school system seeking state planning approval and local support and funding for planning this fall.

All of our major projects go through the School Building Commission, a body created by the County Council to help manage costs, reduce the likelihood of system failures, and plan effectively. The School Building Commission, made up of County Council members, Board of Education members, community members with skills and experience in the field, and facility professionals, recommended the West Salisbury replacement school project proceed to planning.

We know that we can and must adapt to the changes in education and our community. Our facilities must be structured to effectively teach students of all ages, with the ultimate goal of helping every student to be college and career ready.

West Salisbury Elementary currently serves 310 students prekindergarten through grade 2, and our plan is to build a replacement West Salisbury to serve 650 students up through grade 5.

We must recognize our slower recovery from the recession and take advantage of economies of scale by operating fewer, and slightly larger schools, spending dollars in classrooms instead of overhead.

The West Salisbury Elementary School project is an important step in positioning our facilities to deliver the best student learning possible. This project will help students, provide local jobs, and invest outside dollars in our community, making it a more effective place to learn and a more appealing place to live.

As a school system, we look forward to continuing to work diligently at the local and state levels to ensure West Salisbury Elementary and other important school projects happen, for the good of the community.

Dr. John E. Fredericksen is superintendent of Wicomico County’s public schools.

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