Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Please, make the prudent choice, spare a small park ..., and build a better school on a better site. " [Testimony at today's Board of Ed meeting]

Testimony at the August 24, 2011 meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education:

Good morning, Dr. Starr, Mr. Barclay, and members of the Board.

My name is James Pekar, and today I am here to ask you to build a school that will meet the projected need for classroom space for 1200 middle school students. The school that MCPS staff propose to replace Rock Creek Hills Park is too small, and challenges associated with the site will not represent prudent use of our tax dollars.

Although the option of "not feasible" for the site was never an option for the MCPS "feasibility study", it should have been. We need space for 1200 students, and the student body should reflect the socio- and economic diversity of our cluster. Aside from a lack of infrastructure required physically to support the school, there is also a lack of public transportation; so I have to ask, "how will the parents of students from families without cars, visit the school and become involved in their children's education?"

I recently learned that it is possible to have a "placeholder" for a new BCC middle school in the upcoming CIP [Capital Improvement Program] and I would encourage you to work with the County Council to exercise this option.

The process of developing the plan for the middle school has been flawed from its inception, and appears inconsistent with your policies and regulations, and with state law. As [Planning Board] Chairman Carrier has informed you, there may be state and federal impediments to conversion of the site to non-park use. And, the appeal pending before the State Board of Education raises questions about the availability of the site. These outstanding questions will raise concerns about a proposed budget for a school on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park.

Parks Director Bradford observed that a middle school would "obliterate" Rock Creek Hills Park, and stated: "We want to work to find a better way." To be sure, the better way would yield a better school. Please, make the prudent choice, spare a small park that is very important to many Montgomery County citizens, and build a better school on a better site. Please, work with the County Council on a CIP placeholder, and work with the Parks & Planning Commission [M-NCPPC] to find a better way.

Thank you.

"This is arrogant and unresponsive government run amok. "

"The Montgomery County Board of Education insists on building a middle school in Rock Creek Hills Park that would be inadequate from the day it opens, destroy a much-loved neighborhood park, damage a community, and endanger the lives of both children and seniors. ... How could the board have made such a terrible decision? In its rush to build a school, it never consulted the community or visited the site."
- from a letter by Mr. Howard Gleckman in today's Gazette.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"... there's not going to be any trees left."

Parks Director Mary Bradford recently said that construction of a middle school on Rock Creek Hills Park "would obliterate the park", and, as this video shows, Montgomery County Public Schools appears to agree that "... there's not going to be any trees left."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How much time would you have put into this decision?

Yesterday, the Parents' Coalition for Montgomery County shared an April 20th email from Mr. Jeffrey Bourne, Chief of the Division of Facilities and Capital Programs of the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. As previously mentioned, Mr. Bourne's email raises the question of whether the B-CC middle school #2 site selection report, dated March 8th, was secretly modified afterwards.

However, the email raises an additional question: How much time did the site selection committee actually take to, um, select a site?

The site selection report lists only two meetings of the committee: One on December 14, and one on January 25. Mr. Bourne's email refers to the January meeting as "the announcement meeting". This implies that the committee spent only a single meeting, that of December 14, actually evaluating candidate sites, and making their selection.

We have previously been informed that committee members did not visit the sites. Now it appears that they spent only a single meeting evaluating and selecting sites. Assuming that the meeting was a couple of hours long, and given that there were ten candidate sites, that works out to about twelve minutes per site.

Is twelve minutes per site a reasonable way to make a 50 million dollar decision that will affect the education of generations of students?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Missed 12 hours of meetings? Watch 2 minutes of highlights!

Following today's final "feasibility study" meeting for B-CC middle school #2 on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park, here are links to brief videos of highlights from the process:

• Meeting 1 highlight:

• Meetings 2 & 4 highlights:

Was a report dated March 8th secretly modified afterwards?

From the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County comes yet another question about the integrity of the site selection process.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Time to reopen middle school site selection process."

"... there is overwhelming factual evidence that a school on this site cannot be created with full parity to Westland. There simply is not the space to build a full academic facility and the complete athletic program of Westland. Should we build a school that will disappoint parents on the day it opens because it can not offer all of the programs that Westland offers?"
- from a letter by Ms. Cathy Fink in today's Gazette.

"The rules have suddenly changed mid-way through and we have to ask why."

An article by Sarah Gantz in today's Gazette quotes Bruce Crispell of Montgomery County Public Schools as stating that it is "impossible" for a feasibility study committee to vote, but then points out that MCPS's Dennis Cross presided over such votes at two meetings of the feasibility study for B-CC middle school #2 on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park:

"Because anyone can attend each meeting without obligation to attend every meeting, the group cannot have an official membership; without an official membership, it is impossible to vote, [Crispell] said.


However, Cross has called for a vote at two meetings. the third meeting, July 13, the group voted to eliminate four of seven designs..."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Three Things You Should Know about MCPS & Rock Creek Hills Park – Special 100 Days Edition!

[An earlier version of this appeared on July 22nd; those familiar with it may wish to scroll down to item 3 below.]

100 days ago, the Montgomery County Board of Education proclaimed that they would take the site of Rock Creek Hills Park to build a middle school.

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 County's children deserve – one that would provide parity with Westland? Why did MCPS 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?

3 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. Midway through the "feasibility study", MCPS changed the rules.

Residents of Rock Creek Hills have been participating in ongoing MCPS "feasibility study" meetings in good faith, to try to minimize the harm done if a middle school complex is to "obliterate" the small park. At the 2nd and 3rd meetings of the "facility advisory committee", an MCPS official presided, as Sarah Gantz reported in the Gazette, as "... the group voted to eliminate four of the seven total options, including all three original designs." Then, at the 4th meeting, the same official announced: "This is not a formal committee. We call it a committee but it's really nothing more than a work session. ... So we really can't vote on anything ... because we don't have a committee." Why the change of rules, mid-stream? Was voting forbidden midway through the feasibility study because the process highlights site deficiencies? Consider:

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. Recently-completed MCPS feasibility studies (Farquhar, Wheaton) cite facility advisory committee endorsements & preferences, which would not have been possible if those committees had been barred from voting. So, the new rules for the B-CC middle school #2 feasibility study are a departure from how other recent feasibility studies have been run.

"... members of the County Board recognized that Rock Creek Hills had no effective notice that its local park would be selected ..."

“The County Board does not dispute ... that [their] resolution to select the Rock Creek Hills Local Park site ... was not available until 2:00 p.m. on the day of the meeting and was not available to the public as a whole before then. For this reason several members of the County Board recognized that Rock Creek Hills had no effective notice that its local park would be selected as the site of new middle school. The County Executive, therefore, wisely urged the County Board not to act until the Rock Creek Hills community had a chance to express its views on the site selection issues, advice which the County Board ignored.”

- from the July 27th letter from John M. Robinson, President, Rock Creek Hills Citizens' Association, to the Maryland State Board of Education, being the "Response of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens Association, et al. to the Montgomery County Board of Education Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Affirmance" (emphasis in original).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"The rush to build an inadequate middle school."

"I feel badly for MCPS, that it must go forward with the current feasibility study to try to design a school for such an inadequate site. It already sees from the third out of six feasibility study meetings that this proposed middle school does not meet, under any of the design options presented to date, all of the educational requirements."
- from a letter by Ms. Shannon R. Hamm in today's Gazette.