James Rada Jr.
Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban made a conditional recommendation to the Board of Education to conditionally grant the Sabillasville Environmental School charter. If approved, it is expected that Sabillasville Elementary would become a K-8 charter school with a focus on environmental science.
“It’s a beautiful location,” Alban noted. It is also well suited to be a school with a focus on agriculture.
Alban presented her recommendation to the board on August 18 during the board’s regular monthly meeting. The board will make a final decision on September 8.
Alban told the board, “The reservations with this application mostly relate to the fiscal constraints.” The phrase “tight budget” was used repeatedly by Alban, board members, and Board Chief Financial Officer Leslie Pelligrino.
Board Member Brad Young said, “Frederick County is an extremely supportive county of our agricultural community, and I have no doubt many will step up and want to help fund it, even if it will be an initial endowment that’s put there.”
The citizen’s committee that put together the charter is also planning on applying for grants and run a fundraising campaign to help create more of a cushion in the finances.
The three-year charter plan calls for additional grades to be phased in, beginning with the 2022-2023 school year: adding sixth grade in year one, seventh grade in year two, and eighth grade in year three. The student:teacher ratio would be 23:1. This means that the enrollment the first year needs to be 161 students to make the proposed budget work. While Alban noted that 161 is a low number for a charter school to be viable, it is more than double the current enrollment, even accounting for the addition of a sixth grade.
Because of this, Alban made her recommendation conditional on having some sort of verification that the new school could reach its enrollment goal by December 1 of this year. The verification would most likely be letters of intent from the families who wish to send their children to an environmental school. Alban noted that while this seems a short deadline, staffing decisions have to be made in December to be sent to principals in January.
“We are excited about the conditional recommendation, and we hope that we can work together to resolve both parties’ concerns in order to create a unique educational opportunity for students across the county,” Alisha Yocum, president of Sabillasville Elementary’s Parent Teacher Organization, told the board.
Families in Sabillasville have been fighting for years to keep the school open as enrollment has continued to fall. However, the charter group believes that if they create something different from other schools in the county that addresses a need from the largest industry in the county, the students will want to attend.
If the charter is approved, it will also be conditional on finding an appropriate location for the new school. While the goal is to have the Sabillasville Environmental School in the current Sabillasville Elementary, the board will have to not only vote to close the school but work out a lease agreement with the new school.
In an effort to encourage community support for this final vote, Yocum posted on Facebook, “I know it has been a long fight, but we are almost there! Please come out to the BOE Meeting for a final decision on our charter school efforts. We need to fill the board room!!”