Racial disparity cited in plea for pool -- Gazette.Net


In the time it takes a swimmer to take her mark and dive into the water, a swimming pool was back on the table for St. Charles High School during a joint meeting Tuesday of the Charles County commissioners and the Charles County Board of Education.

In a few sentences, school board member Donald M. Wade brought back into formal discussion a pool that was designed for the county’s seventh high school, but was taken out of the construction plan in 2009 and kept only as a bid alternate.

“I am deeply disappointed there is not a swimming pool in that school,” Wade told fellow board members and commissioners.

Earlier in the morning, St. Charles High Principal Richard Conley updated the boards on the progress and plans for the educational programs at the school, which is set to open on Piney Church Road in Waldorf in 2014.

The four-story school building is designed to house each grade on its own level.

Conley said that student and faculty collaboration are a focus at the new high school. With students collaborating and working in groups on projects, Conley said they will be better prepared for college and careers.

Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said that collaboration will do a “tremendous service preparing students for what they will be doing in college.”

Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) was pleased to see that the high school had collaborative areas for faculty and wanted to know if collaboration with faculty could be done systemwide.

Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill said that with the exception of having designated areas at schools for it, collaboration with faculty already exists.

The new high school, Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) pointed out, is a zoned school, meaning students can only attend it if they live in that school zone. However, all students will be able to use the science center portion of the school.

The science center, which will include the school’s digital classroom, was designed to connect to the school system’s curriculum and allow for student groups to use the space during the week. It will be staffed to allow community groups to use it on evenings and weekends.

Conley said that construction is coming along, with the majority of the school under a roof, drywall installed in the four-story area and exterior masonry work continuing.

Wade’s concern was not with the progress or the programs, but the lack of a swimming pool.

He said that the majority of the students would be ethnic minorities, and many black students are not trained to swim. He said that there aren’t any swimming areas on that side of the county. Putting a pool at the school, he said, would be a great resource to the community. Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) asked if the pool was planned for the school in the beginning under the previous board of commissioners.

Board Chairwoman Roberta S. Wise said the pool was in the original plan.

“Is it possible to put it back?” Kelly asked.

Steve Andritz, program analyst and project manager for the school system, said that the pool was designed all the way through to the end. He said it was the first item to go when the school was over budget but that there is a spot at the end of the building where a pool could go.

Collins said Wade has a reasonable concern based on the student population for the new high school, and that statistics do show that many African-Americans cannot swim.

According to a 2010 national research study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis, 60 to 70 percent of African-American and Latino children cannot swim.

Collins said that while the concern is reasonable and he would like to see a plan of action on the matter, he is hesitant talking about coming up with funds for what was originally priced at $5 million for the pool, when operating costs for the high school still are being discussed.

The county commissioners assured the school board earlier in the meeting that they should feel comfortable that commissioners are on target to pay for the operating cost of the high school, which is in the $18 million range.

School board members emphasized that adding the pool would benefit not only the high school, but the wider community. Public swimming is allowed at other high school pools.

Kelly said that county staff would get together and work on a follow-up discussion for a pool at St. Charles High.

In other business, the commissioners voted unanimously to fund a facility and educational conditions survey that will look at the issues of aging schools, providing an objective assessment of schools and programs and identifying building deficiencies.

School system staff told the board that the study would guide the school system as it balances a capital improvement plan for the future. The study would help identify what schools would be better suited for renovations, additions or whole school replacements.

The recommendation to do such a study came from the state Interagency Committee on School Construction’s Executive Director of the public school construction program, David Lever. In a letter to both boards, Lever expressed concern with deferring building renovations and the importance of an “accurate and complete assessment of the building plant.”

In his letter, Lever recognized the county for having built “an impressive fleet” of new schools to accommodate growth, but the fear was that an exclusive focus on new school construction and no major renovations in more than a decade had likely caused considerable educational inequity.

Lever recommended an outside consultant for impartial and objective findings, among other reasons.

After researching other studies, the school system recommended to commissioners that it piggyback off Baltimore County, which is currently contracting with GWWO Architects for its study, to have GWWO do its study at the same rate.

The school board outlined a potential schedule of completion for the study and invited county staff to be involved in meetings regarding the study along the way.

The study would cost about $300,000.

Commissioners voted to fund the study using Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement funds.

The DRRA fund is made up of cash contributions from developers who pay for potential school seats created by their housing projects.

When it comes to what schools would be priorities, Wise recommended the boards not prioritize, but instead “let the study set priorities for us.”