Why didn't Montgomery County Public Schools work with our County's Parks & Planning Commission to find a site for the new middle school that our children deserve – one that will provide parity with Westland? Why did they instead use a deeply flawed and secretive process whose outcome calls for the destruction of a cherished community resource in order to expensively cram an inadequate school onto a deficient site? Especially if finding a site appears to present a challenge, then engaging with the County agency charged with land use and planning is only common sense – and it's required by State law. Is MCPS above the law?
Here are three things you should know about MCPS and Rock Creek Hills Park:
1. Site selection appears to have been illegal.
The Montgomery County Board of Education did not consult with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission before their April 28th proclamation that they would take the site of Rock Creek Hills Park to build a middle school, in apparent violation of §4-116 of the Maryland Education Act, which states: "(a) (1) If there is a commission or agency with legal responsibility for county planning for land use, the county board [of Education] shall: (i) Consult with the commission or agency; and (ii) Ask its advice in choosing land for a school site."
2. MCPS staff have repeatedly mischaracterized the site.
For example, in a May 26 letter: "Kensington Junior High School was closed in 1979 and the property transferred to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission for redevelopment as the park that exists today." At a July 11 briefing: "That was a former school site. It was the former home of Kensington Junior High School, which was closed in 1979 because of declining enrollment, ultimately passed into the M-NCPPC, and into a park."
Such claims are not accurate. In fact, the "former home of Kensington Junior High School" included what is today the location of the Kensington Park retirement community, which provides independent living, assisted living, and Alzheimer's care to 200 seniors. When the KJH site was broken up, more than eight acres were deeded to the Housing Opportunities Commission, who financed with tax-exempt bonds the construction of the senior housing, which stands on much of the "footprint" of the former school. This took about a third of the acreage; took the road access to the North; and severed what had been a through North-South road – all rendering the remainder, Rock Creek Hills Park, stunningly deficient as a potential middle school site.
3. MCPS claims, erroneously, to own the site.
The official MCPS website includes a claim that the park is "owned by" MCPS:
This claim that the park "is owned by the school district" is incorrect. While the transfer agreement includes a "take-back" clause, which has not been executed, and which requires the concurrence of the County Executive, the owner of a property is its deed-holder, and Rock Creek Hills Park is deeded to the Parks Commission.
1. MCPS's lawyers have claimed that site selection has not yet occurred. Sort of like arguing about what the meaning of "is" is. Yes, lawyers get paid to write stuff like that, but come on, let's not pretend that MCPS has not picked a site.
2. Aerial photographs are available.
3. At 1:20 PM on Tuesday, July 19th, we wrote to the MCPS webmaster, requesting a correction of their mistaken claim of ownership. We received a prompt auto-response stating: "Thank you for contacting MCPS Web Services. We will respond to your email within 1 business day." However, we have heard nothing since.
UPDATE [25 July 2011]: The MCPS web page for the May 23rd meeting has been corrected to state that Rock Creek Hills Park is owned by the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. As the page is annotated "Updated July 22, 2011", it appears that the correction was made on that day.