Sabillisville Elementary School

Sabillasville Elementary School in northern Frederick County will close at the end of the school year, the board of education decided Monday.

Sabillasville Elementary School will close at the end of the 2020-2021 school year after serving as a small-town public school and the center of the community for 56 years.

The Frederick County Board of Education voted 5-1 to close the school at its meeting on Monday. Board member Rae Gallagher opposed the motion, and board member Liz Barrett was absent from the meeting. The motion received support from the student member.

The school’s closure as a Frederick County Public School does not mean it will cease to exist, however. Instead, the closure now means that a new door may open.

The discussion surrounding the closure of the school began in the early months of 2020, when board members were alerted to its dwindling enrollment numbers and the challenges its small size posed to maintaining equitable educational standards across the county.

Based on the most recent data, the school currently has 70 enrolled students. According to FCPS enrollment projections, by the 2029-2030 school year, Sabillasville Elementary is expected to have 53 students enrolled, which would place its state-rated capacity at 46 percent.

The age and cost of maintaining the building have also been a concern. Its Facilities Condition Index rating is critical, and it is one of the most inefficient buildings in the school system, posing the third-highest maintenance cost, according to FCPS reports.

But community support for the school has been robust, and parents of students at the school and nearby residents have urged the board from the outset to explore alternate options to keep Sabillasville Elementary open. In February, the board voted to explore options and make a final decision on the school by the end of December.

In October, FCPS staff told the board that the only viable alternative was an open enrollment scenario. This would mean students from nearby schools that are crowded would have the ability, if they wished, to attend Sabillasville Elementary with provided transportation from the school system.

At the same October meeting, community members alerted the board that they were exploring the option of turning Sabillasville Elementary into a charter school. Board members were enthusiastic about the idea.

Since then, the community has been hard at work to develop its charter application. As the News-Post previously reported, the Sabillasville community seems to be interested in pursuing a classical education and turning the school into an institution similar to the Frederick Classical Charter School.

The board was slated to hear an update on both the community’s charter application and surveys regarding an open enrollment option at Monday’s meeting.

However, according to FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban, after consulting with legal counsel, it was determined the community should not update the board because it would be a conflict, since eventually the board itself will have to make a decision on the community’s charter application.

“In no way do we wish to deter their efforts, and we would certainly welcome any movement that they want to make towards possibly submitting an application for a charter school,” Alban said. “The board, because legally they have to make the decision about approval and whether or not they want to authorize this charter school, cannot be involved.”

Alban explained the charter process and the closure of the school are two different pathways that have to be handled separately. The only way the charter option can be pursued is if the school, under FCPS, is first closed.

Therefore, the board voted to close the school after hearing the results of the open enrollment survey that indicated the majority of parents from Yellow Springs Elementary would not be interested in sending their children to Sabillasville Elementary under an open enrollment option.

Out of 143 families that responded to the survey, only five indicated resounding interest in an open enrollment option.

Most families that responded no said it was because of the distance being too far.

Yellow Springs Elementary parents were the only ones surveyed because it is the only school within close enough proximity that would continue to be crowded in the coming years, according to FCPS.

Alban explained that the capacity of other nearby schools will be alleviated shortly with the opening of Blue Heron Elementary School. Schools in the Brunswick feeder pattern were not considered because the time required for those students to travel to Sabillasville Elementary would be slightly over the system’s policy of one hour on a bus, Alban said.

There was also a short discussion about a conversion charter option, which Alban said Alisha Yocum, president of the Sabillasville Elementary Parent Teacher Association, had brought up. Maryland charter law allows a board of education to directly convert a public school into a charter school if certain criteria are met.

This would mean the school wouldn’t have to be officially closed, and the charter application process would be simplified. Additionally, a conversion would guarantee that all enrolled students at Sabillasville Elementary would gain automatic enrollment into the new charter school.

If a new charter is proposed, the Maryland State Department of Education will have to grant a waiver for current students to automatically gain admission.

Alban told the board, however, that she was wary of how successful a conversion charter would be based on the criteria that would have to be met, particularly regarding the one specification that conversion is done to improve student academic performance.

Before voting, Board of Education President Brad Young said he wanted to be clear about why the board was voting to close the school.

“We need to let [the charter school] take its own course and not be a part of that,” Young said. “And for it to take place there has to be a building available. For there to be a building available, we have to make the move to close the school.”

The next step in the process, according to Young, will be for the school system to determine if there is another use for the building. Since it’s expected to be impractical for another use, the property will then be excised back to the county, which would most likely offer it up to be leased. This would give the opportunity for a newly proposed charter to step in.

Gallagher, the only board member who voted against the closure, seemed to be concerned that the community was unaware a vote on the future of the school would be taken at Monday’s meeting.

She pointed out the board did not receive any public comment.

“I want to make sure that we are transparent in what our process is and our communication,” Gallagher said. “I don’t want [the community] to end up feeling that we scheduled a meeting and [have] done this behind closed doors ... without any transparency and the opportunity for them to continue to weigh in.”

Yocum, president of the Sabillasville Elementary Parent Teacher Association, said in an email she was surprised the board took a vote. She said she asked ahead of Monday’s meeting if a vote would be taken and was told a final determination was not expected.

Therefore, the outcome of the meeting was a surprise, Yocum said, adding she understands that the school needed to close in order for the charter process to move forward. She said she wishes the board had given the community another opportunity to provide input, specifically regarding the conversion charter option.

“After our long journey, I am sorry to see it end in this way, without clear and transparent communication to our community,” Yocum said. “We are going to roll up our sleeves and submit the charter application in hopes that we will continue to have a school as the heart of our community.”

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill.

(19) comments

Jim Hartley

The School Board is doing its duty to the taxpayers, but this is still a sad situation. Beautiful little school serving a somewhat isolated population. (OK, it's 11 minutes to Thurmont, but it seems isolated.) Would the people who complain about the amount of money we spend on schools object if the County Council were to make an annual supplemental appropriation to keep that school open, year after year, until development reaches that area?

MD1756

How about an impact fee on families in over crowded school areas? Impact fees are charged for developers and we know those impact fees don't really cover all of the costs of the growth. After all, developers mainly build because there is a demand. Population growth in the area (promoted by the politicians) is creating the demand. Those responsible for the population growth should then pay the costs of the increased demand. Only fair right?

HappySeller2014

Pipe dream MD1756. County needs to hammer out infrastructure and developer fees BEFORE people move into an area. Once residential properties are built, it is not the fault of future residents who show up - and they should not be further taxed, unless additional infrasture needs occur on their watch.

It is called good urban and smart-growth planning. It works, for municipalities that embrace it, rather than letting developers run amok.

Lake Linganore is looking more and more like a disaster ever day that goes by. Economically. Infrastructure-wise. Road-planning wise. Car speeding-wise. School enrollment wise.

MD1756

So a single person should be taxed the same as a family of four or a family of ten? That would be nice but as it stands now that's true for property tax but a single person, ceteris paribus, pays more in income tax than a family of four or ten. Who do you think imposes a greater burden on schools, other services and infrastructure?

HappySeller2014

It is all about the philosophy of public goods, MD1756. Look at the forest beyond the trees. Larger families tend to have larger homes than single folks, thus larger property tax bills. Larger families are taxed higher amounts for state sales taxes, as their needs tend to be costlier. They probably pay more in gas taxes driving family members around, buying multiple cars, and pay numerous impact and usage fees. Vakay taxes, restaurant taxes, etc. all add up.

Individuals may pay more in income taxes for a given income, but all the other taxes larger families encumber even things out.

Hey, you want to pay less in income taxes, get married. Have kids. And then have fun telling me all the extra expenses and taxes you pay to keep them safe and healthy. Be careful what you argue for.

How quickly us older folks forget who paid, with their taxes, for us to attend school as a child, etc. It is called generational caretaking.

And if you are single, elderly, and get sick, it is all us taxpayers that have to pay for you in nursing homes, rehab, etc...no family around. You actually become a tax burden as your social network is often insufficient.

Trust me, looking down the road, you single folks have it made when it comes to taxes.

MD1756

Happyseller, your points are not true for probably at least the 50% below the median income level and it isn't true for some above the 50% median income level. They are not likely to own larger houses, etc.

Having children is a choice. Those who don't have children shouldn't have to pay more in income taxes just because they have no children. Those who don't own vehicles don't pay more in title fees, driver's license costs, gas taxes, tolls, etc. just because they don't own a vehicle.

Not all single elderly are living off public funds beyond SSI and medicare which we are all forced to pay taxes for. I would have preferred not to have paid social security taxes and had that extra money to invest over my working career. I would have had more wealth to support myself in retirement (I did a simplified calculation long ago) than by paying into social security. I have saved over my working career and will be paying for all of my assisted living and nursing home costs (by the way, medicare does not cover assisted living) if needed and I will likely have those costs sooner than others with children would probably have. However, I may not choose to go to the expense of going into a nursing home and thus have more money to donate to various charities when I die.

Forgive me but I do not trust you when you say us single folks have it made when it comes to taxes.

HappySeller2014

If the future of Northern Frederick County had an endgame I would buy off on this. But it is doubtful this area will pick up its developmental pace for many decades.

Time to repurpose. Smartly. Remember, the building is antiquated. No need to toss taxpayer dollars into a buzzsaw up there. Some activities that could occur at this site could self-generate revenue in fact.

Let's be smart about this.

shiftless88

Jim; a good suggestion but I think the situation is that the population there is shrinking. I do not see that changing in the near future. It is isolated by geography and that won't change.

Dwasserba

A map showing the location would be helpful. Looking it up on Earth, it seems seriously in the middle of nowhere-ville.

shiftless88

https://goo.gl/maps/45UQbe6ncKDHsr4s9

rwaesche

I know there are the usual reasons, and I know it's easy to blame people for living there, but the age old observation still applies: the citizens of northwest Frederick County are largely ignored by their county government.

HappySeller2014

No, not ignored. They receive goods and services in direct proportion to their contribution to the local tax base. Cannot throw the county government under a bus here.

And I like Northern Frederick County rural and beautiful. I hope it stays this way for many years into the future.

HappySeller2014

Repurpose the whole building to be an asset to the whole community.

Charter school? Good. But also a skills training center? Community gym and meeting space? Small business incubator? Farming resource center? Partner with MSM to be a teaching lab, training location for student teachers, or research center?

DO NOT limit its repurposing to just one approach. Parking lot regional flea market/community garage sale on weekends? Community outdoor space for gardening and composting? Build a ecological walking trail?

The possibiloties are endless. The local community and FCPS should not shortchange themselves.

NewMarketParent

@HappySeller2014

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Business Owner

Church?

HappySeller2014

Off-track betting site? Adult/child daycare center? Drug addiction rehab center in beautiful countryside? Homeless rehab and temporary stay shelter to relieve downtown Frederick concerns? Military personnel convalesence and support shelter/station?

I could go on and on...

DickD

This is one time a Charter school makes good sense.

shiftless88

In this scenario, who pays building maintenance? Will the lease have to be sufficiently high to cover that?

HappySeller2014

Explore income scenarios that self-generate revenue. Let's think outside the box here, folks.

I have seen old, abandoned, deteriorating warehouses in eastern Baltimore (Canton area) repurposed, which revitalized the whole area east of Fells Point. New school built. Stores and restaurants galore. Beautiful condos. Nice parks and walkways.

You just have to have a vision that makes sense. I am sure there are many scenarios that would make good sense for this building in this part of Frederick County, if everyone just used their heads.

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