Thursday, November 3, 2011
"I am recommending that a new site selection process be conducted to review all sites that were previously considered as well as other candidates that may be identified ..."
Following are remarks by Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr at last evening's meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education, as provided by Ms. Mary Cobbett, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School PTA Cluster Coordinator:
Statement of Superintendent Joshua P. Starr to the Board of Education Regarding Bethesda-Chevy Chase (B-CC) Middle School #2 (November 2, 2011)
· Before we begin review of my Recommended FY 2013–2018 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) I want to take some time to address one of the most important capital projects I am recommending; construction of a new Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster middle school.
· As you know, there has been a good deal of controversy since the Rock Creek Hills Local Park site was adopted by the Board of Education on April 28, 2011, as the location for the new middle school.
· I have been concerned about the issues raised by the Rock Creek Hills community that have been most vocally represented by Mr. Jim Pekar. He and other members of this community are strongly opposed to construction of the new middle school at their local park.
· In their opposition to the use of Rock Creek Hills Local Park for the new middle school the community has raised concerns over the process used to select the site and the suitability of the site for a middle school.
· The controversy over this site has spread beyond the immediate community. At this point I am concerned that we may not have the support of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC)—that is critical to having the property transferred back to the Board of Education—and of the County Council—who we need to fund construction of the school.
· At the same time as these concerns cloud the prospects for the new middle school, increasing middle school enrollment—and the need to reassign Grade 6 students from Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase elementary schools to the middle school level—are pressing concerns of students and parents in the B-CC cluster.
· PTA leaders in the B-CC Cluster are rightfully anxious to see the new middle school project move forward as expeditiously as possible.
· I am sympathetic to the concerns of parents in the B-CC cluster, but I also believe we need consider the issues surrounding the use of the site and resolve these in a productive fashion.
· Following are concerns over reclamation of the site, and concerns over the site selection process.
Reclamation of the Property and Program Open Space Funding
· The transfer agreements that passed ownership of the Rock Creek Hills property from the Board of Education to the county, and then to the M-NCPPC, clearly stated that in the event the property is needed for public school use in the future, then it will be transferred back to the Board of Education.
· This reclamation provision was important to the Board of Education’s action to adopt Rock Creek Hills Local Park as the site for the new middle school back on April 28, 2011.
· Recently it has been determined that there may be more “strings” attached to our ability to reclaim the property for public school use.
· When the M-NCPPC developed the park in the early 1990s they accepted funds from the Program Open Space (POS). This is a program managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to distribute funds from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to preserve open space.
· The use of Program Open Space funds was inconsistent with the reclamation terms of the transfer agreement under which the M-NCPPC took title to the property. This was the case since use of these funds places restrictions on future public use of parks, in contradiction with the terms of the original transfer agreement.
· We are currently conducting research on whether the restrictions may affect our ability to reclaim the Rock Creek Hills Park property.
Concerns with the Site Selection Process
· Beyond the recently identified legal issue of reclaiming the park property, there is the lingering concern over the process leading up to adoption of the Rock Creek Hills Local Park site.
· Staff has developed a detailed chronology of the site selection process, the Board of Education action, and the appeal to the Maryland State Board of Education. In addition, correspondence related to these matters has been provided to me.
· I have been carefully considering the chronology of events, as well as the ongoing input from the Rock Creek Hills community.
· I want to state clearly that I believe the process that was conducted leading up to Board of Education action on April 28, 2011, was conducted in conformance to applicable Board policy and school system regulations.
· In addition, I have confidence in the recent feasibility study that showed how the new middle school can be constructed at the Rock Creek Hills Local park site. This study showed that nearly all of the current open space area can be preserved, including the play fields, and a state-of-the-art middle school can be constructed.
· Although all of the appropriate steps have been followed, I have to acknowledge that there are enough issues still hanging over this project that additional steps are needed to firm up support for the new middle school.
Recommendation of New Site Selection Process
· I am recommending that a new site selection process be conducted to review all sites that were previously considered as well as other candidates that may be identified through this process.
· In the next few days I will be sending a memorandum to the Board of Education outlining how the site selection process would be conducted and the timeframe for the study.
· The new site selection process for B-CC Middle School #2 will take advantage of the M-NCPPC/MCPS Joint Working Group that is exploring ways to improve site selection procedures. This group began meeting on October 26, 2011.
Continue with CIP Recommendation to Open B-CC MS #2 in 2017
· My recommendation to redo the site selection process is not inconsistent with my CIP recommendation to open the new B-CC Middle School #2 in August 2017. There is sufficient time in this schedule to allow for the new site selection process and still open the new middle school by the recommended date of August 2017.