Friday, January 20, 2012

A Shocking Omission.

Montgomery County Public Schools staff threaten credibility of new site selection process.

In November, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua P. Starr explained that our county's use of Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF) and/or Maryland Program Open Space (POS) funds to develop Rock Creek Hills Park "... 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."

Indeed, the Act authorizing LWCF states that "No property acquired or developed with assistance under this section shall, without the approval of the Secretary [of the Department of the Interior], be converted to other than public outdoor recreation uses." Under the law, parks developed with these funds may not be converted from park use without providing replacement land of equal value in the community. Similar restrictions apply to parks developed with funds from Maryland's POS.

So, it was very surprising last week, at the first meeting of the new site selection advisory committee for B-CC middle school #2, during a discussion of "pros" and "cons", when MCPS staff claimed that a "pro" for selection of Rock Creek Hills Park was that MCPS has a "reclaim right" to the park, without mentioning Dr. Starr's stated concerns regarding strict conversion restrictions resulting from use of LWCF/POS funds.

MCPS staff asserted a conclusion on the status of the site, despite the fact that the Superintendent requested that the site selection be restarted, in part, because the status of the site is in question. By claiming that there exists an unencumbered reclaim right – and omitting mention of the concerns noted by Dr. Starr – MCPS staff risked misleading the public and the members of the committee who are charged with making decisions based on such statements. Sadly, this shocking omission threatens the credibility of the new site selection process.

(Public records show that Federal Land and Water Conservation Funds, administered through Maryland's Program Open Space, were used to develop Rock Creek Hills Park.)

[Please note: This posting was delayed in order to give MCPS staff time to clarify their remarks. However, it has now been more than a week since these concerns were communicated to MCPS.]

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