Superintendent: WSE debate no factor in retirement

Superintendent of Schools John Fredericksen decided to retire in June 2016 to spend time with family, he said Tuesday, not because of an ongoing disagreement with the county about a new West Salisbury Elementary School.

The 64-year-old Fredericksen, Wicomico’s superintendent since 2008, announced his retirement during the board of education meeting, saying he made the decision after attending a retirement seminar. He alerted school board members about his departure in October 2014, he said.

Yet, the announcement comes in the wake of school officials’ desire to see the aging West Salisbury Elementary School rebuilt, with capacity for about 650, due to the addition of preschool students, enrolled for the first time.

Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver, though, while agreeing there must be a new structure, said he will follow the recommendation of the county council, whose members want it smaller, accommodating 350.  The current student population is 311.

Culver also told Fredericksen the council wants estimated costs reduced by 15 percent.

On May 6, Fredericksen wrote to Culver stating board of education officials studied the building, in disrepair, and costs to fix, renovate, add on or replace it.

Their studies were accepted by the board of education and the county’s School Building Commission. Both supported a new facility, at the current site, with capacity for 650 students.

On June 3, Culver replied, agreeing the school must be rebuilt but standing by the county council’s original decision.

Fredericksen wrote back the next day, asking him to reconsider, reminding him the council was not supporting recommendations and objecting to cutting costs.

“This is a change in course from our originally-planned project outlined in the CIP (capital improvement plan.) We will immediately begin to study these revised plans, develop a new budget, and explore the impact of these changes.

“You indicated funds are now available for us to begin the design and engineering process. We will reconvene our teams and report back to you regarding our progress,” Fredericksen wrote.

This week, Culver said he has no animosity toward Fredericksen, who he characterized as a “great educator,” but said students would have to be bused in to fill a larger West Salisbury Elementary, and that idea hasn’t been “vetted among county residents.”

“By signing on to that, we would be agreeing to take kids from Delmar. The board of education would have to do redistricting, then get everybody to approve it. I don’t want to be the one to take kids from Delmar and bus them here,” Culver said.

Building a smaller school will also save the county money, since the cost of the larger one is estimated at $41 million, compared to $24 million for a smaller one.

School board members have said it would be wiser to build one larger school instead of two small ones because not as many administrators would be needed, but Culver said he can’t imagine the board of education would eliminate that many jobs.

The matter can be resolved by local residents, at public hearings,  telling the county council what they want, Culver said.

Fredericksen said school and county officials “need to have that talk” to come to an agreement. A new West Salisbury Elementary could be open in four years, he said, explaining that’s the typical time frame from design to construction to occupancy.

Before he bids farewell, the superintendent would like to see the West Salisbury Elementary School situation resolved, so he can feel he “made a difference for kids.”

“And if I can get air conditioning for East Salisbury Elementary,” he said, smiling, “I’ll be dancing in the streets.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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