- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County Board of Education unanimously decided Monday night to open the newest high school with grades 9, 10 and 11.
Construction of St. Charles High School, the $64 million school set to open on Piney Church Road in Waldorf in 2014, began in August.
Board Chairwoman Roberta S. Wise told the commissioners on Sept. 18 that the school board needed to decide with what grades to open the building the first year and, to do that, “we need to know what to expect from commissioners in new funding to open the school.”
The cost to operate the school for a year at full capacity of staff and 1,600 students is in the range of $18 million, Wise told the commissioners last week.
The previous board of commissioners agreed to commit $10 million as a one-time funding source for the new high school opening and operation.
The current commissioners informed the school board at a previous meeting that those funds were not available, but the commissioners said they would work with the school board on operating cost concerns.
At the Sept. 18 meeting, Wise said the operating cost per year remains in the $18 million range, but the cost will vary depending on the number of programs, teachers and staff that can be transferred from existing high schools.
On Sept. 18, Paul Balides, assistant superintendent of finance, told the commissioners that the operating cost of the high school will reach $18 million within two years, with the bulk of the cost occurring in the first year.
School Superintendent James E. Richmond said Monday night that opening with grades 9, 10 and 11, the high school would need about 65 teachers, and approximately 30 teachers would be transferred from existing high schools “as a result of students moving out of overcrowded schools.”
Balides said the first year’s operating cost would be about $16 million, with savings from the school system covering about $4 million and teacher transfers saving $2 to $3 million. At $9 million to $10 million, the cost would come down “to a net that hopefully the county commissioners can fund.”
If not, Balides said school staff and the board have to look at funding it internally.
“I don’t think $10 million is a surprise to us; we’ve been working with that number since we’ve been in office,” Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said.
Options included opening St. Charles High as a full high school with grades 9 through 12, limiting grades to 9 through 11, limiting grades to 9 and10, or opening as a combination middle/high school with grades 7 through 9.
Wise said it was the consensus of the school board not to consider opening it as a middle school because that option “does not provide relief at the high school level, which is where we need it.”
Board member Jennifer S. Abell said, in addition to the middle school not being an option, opening it as a full high school would not be ideal because the board expressed interest in not moving high school seniors from their schools, and opening it as grades 9 and 10 “would not give us immediate relief.”
After some discussion, the board unanimously chose to open with grades 9, 10 and 11.
“I think this is the best plan for the school system and the children,” Richmond said.
Richard Wesolowski, director of transportation, and coordinating superintendent of planning and construction Gerard Barrett, said they recently met with representatives of The St. Charles Cos. and would continue to meet with them to make sure the school system is up-to-date with construction and growth expectations of communities in St. Charles.
Board member Michael K. Lukas said Monday that he did not take issue with opening the school with grades 9, 10 and 11, but his concern lies with how many students the school would have when it opens.
Taking growth into consideration, Lukas said if the school opened with 900 students in the first year — 300 per grade — by the fourth year, the school would reach capacity.
“My personal opinion is to open [the high school] as small as possible to make sure there is room for growth,” Lukas said in a later interview.
The school board will select a redistricting committee at its October school board meeting to begin the process for all high schools in the county.