Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Council President Ervin,"

Date: July 20, 2011 11:44:31 AM EDT
Subject: July 25 hearings on site selection

Council President Ervin,

Thank you for initiating hearings to discuss the BOE’s process for selecting school sites. Unfortunately, there have been too many instances where the BOE has misused its authority and misled the communities it should be helping.

Last year, I took part in the Roundtable Discussion Group to find solutions to the overcrowding in some BCC cluster schools. While I was dismayed about the lack of long-term planning by MCPS, I was encouraged by its seeming willingness to work with the school communities to help solve the overcrowding problem that had since been ignored and/or unpredicted. Our PTAs took surveys of the parent communities, which overwhelmingly supported keeping the 6th grades in the elementary schools with similar academic offerings to those at Westland. If that could not be achieved, then parents grudgingly supported moving the 6th grades to middle school if it was in closer proximity to the eastern portion of the cluster. Parity is the foremost concern of these parents.

At the conclusion of these meetings, and following the Superintendent’s recommendation for the construction for a middle school in a centralized location in the BCC cluster, the process went awry.

From the start, the Site Selection process was secretive and implemented in a hasty and simplistic manner. Though I had participated in the first part of the process, I was aware of next-to-nothing of the SSAC. How the 10 sites were initially selected has not been made public, though I surmise that those that were so obviously inadequate (3 and 7 acres?!) were put on the list so that MCPS could “legitimately” claim that the meetings needed to be confidential because they were privately held lands. The other sites are parks, the owners of which were neither notified or consulted about beforehand. These selections were sloppily put together, without any creativity or forward-thinking. The make-up of the SSAC is telling, as well: with no representation from communities east of Connecticut Avenue, the SSAC chose two sites east of Connecticut Avenue.

We are in the midst of the feasibility portion of this process now, and it has become clear that the parity with Westland that so many parents clearly seek will not be possible if the new middle school is constructed on a site half the size of Westland.

If a middle school is built at Rock Creek Hills Local Park, we have been told that there is a possibility of off-site athletic amenities, and that PE spaces may not meet athletic program requirements. We also were told that the new school may not offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program that Westland has. Since the new school also feeds into BCC, an IB high school, how will this affect the students who attend the non-IB middle school?

By building an inadequate school at a well-used, local park, that supports BCC high school athletics as well as 400 permit-holders annually, the County will waste a chance to build a high-quality facility worthy of its national reputation for quality education, while at the same time taking a valuable park from the county’s residents and taxpayers.

The neighborhood itself will never be the same, as the site that originally housed a middle school 30 years ago is not the same site. It is two-thirds the size, as a third of it (and the site where the Kensington Junior High buildings were) is now a 200-person retirement community. The people that work there currently use the neighborhood streets to park, and ambulances for its citizenry visit the facility 15 times a week. If there is a school next door, there will be even more congestion and traffic issues, the harm of which we don’t have to speculate about because anyone with common sense knows it will be much greater: 20 buses, twice a day, hundreds of staff and parent vehicles.

This is not the first time the BOE has misled a community. Citizens in Cabin John, Seven Locks, Waring Station and Potomac (Brickyard) have all been victim of the BOE’s negligence. It is a long-standing problem that needs to be corrected NOW, starting with Rock Creek Hills. I hope that the County Council will move to finally make the BOE accountable to the citizens of Montgomery County.

Jill Gallagher
Kensington, Md.

Nancy Floreen
Marc Elrich
George Levanthal
Phil Andrews
Craig Rice

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