Stuck in limbo amid the politics and the letters, comments, social media posts and statements issued this week are the people inside Buckingham Elementary School.
This is a proud school. The pride can be seen in the community supporting it each day. For instance, a local church recently sent over a month’s span letters of support each week to teachers at Buckingham, which is a Title I school, meaning more than one-third of the student body is living in poverty. The students and teachers deserve a new building to learn and work within.
It should not be the case, but students at Buckingham Elementary are learning in an environment far different than their counterparts less than 10 miles away at Ocean City Elementary and Showell Elementary. Teachers at Buckingham do not have the luxuries their colleagues at the other north-end elementary schools are blessed with. It’s a sad reality.
This dichotomy is one of the driving motivations behind the umbrage taken over the state’s decision to not provide funding to a new Buckingham. The reason expressed by the state is the county has room in other “adjacent” schools to address overcrowding concern. According to the state, redistricting will ease the crowding at Buckingham by sending current students to other elementary schools and maybe even an entire grade to Berlin Intermediate School. It’s a decision Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor described this week as making no sense and “unacceptable and ridiculous.” He is right.
Parents Brian Robertson and Emily Vocke, who attended Buckingham, spoke from their hearts in support of a new building at the school board meeting. Vocke said, “As nostalgic as it is walking my children through those same halls it is also disheartening to see the building hasn’t changed at all. The library has been cut in half to make room for classroom space. My daughter eats lunch in her classroom so that the gym class can be held in the cafeteria. My son is in a trailer outside of the building and we are aware of why that’s unsafe. My first grader has trouble concentrating in his classroom as there are no walls or doors dividing the other four neighboring classrooms. The center of the pod, once used as a space for the grade to watch movies and have joint lessons, is now classroom space.”
These are not the same circumstances and learning environments for other schools. It’s an issue in need of addressing and the school system understands this is about equitable learning opportunities.
At this point, there is good reason to be concerned about the future prospects of a new Buckingham Elementary School. State legislators have made a hail mary attempt through a letter to the governor. Whether the governor will override a state agency is a major unknown. The letter hit the key points, especially the fact Buckingham “represents the highest concentration of minority students with 42 percent identifying as non-white.” But it’s not a race issue, it’s about fairness. The governor has a chance to flex here, but the precedent may deter him.
The reality appears to be today without state funding the county may not be able to move ahead with a reconstruction project. The school system needs to be planning for alternative options, such as an expansion and modernization, should the state hold firm.