New documents outline a consultant’s plan to review school boundaries in Montgomery County.
Maryland’s largest school system, grappling with crowding in some schools and empty seats at others, this year launched its first comprehensive review of school-attendance boundaries in decades.
In August, the school board awarded a contract, not to exceed $475,000, to WXY Architecture + Urban Design, based in New York. Only one other firm submitted a proposal to complete the project.
WXY Architecture’s proposal, obtained by Bethesda Beat through a Maryland Public Information Act request, outlines a specific work plan for the analysis, including the firm’s past experience, community engagement processes and what tools and information it will use to complete the project.
The review will not require the school district to make any boundary changes, but has sparked tension in Montgomery County, considered one of the most diverse areas of the country.
During a public meeting in April about the yearlong study, some parents who oppose the review raised concerns about students at lower-performing schools not being able to achieve at higher-performing schools. They said white families are “being punished” for “working hard and doing well and choosing to live in a certain community.”
Other parents have argued that shifting school boundaries would lead to long bus routes, decreased home values and would disrupt community relationships.
Other community members, including a contingent of students from across the county, have pressed the school district to prioritize efforts to break up large concentrations of white and minority students.
WXY Architecture will first review data collected by MCPS and other local and federal agencies regarding demographics, socioeconomic trends, development and transportation trends, and existing school boundaries.
The firm will then examine “best practices in boundary changes” from school districts across the country and summarize strategies for projecting school enrollment and how to best manage over- and underenrollment and segregation.
WXY will compare MCPS to other similarly sized school districts “that have faced similar issues” and the “long- and short-term strategies implemented” by those school districts to alleviate the issue.
The project team will analyze an MCPS policy that says student demographics, geography, the long-term stability of school assignments and facility use should be prioritized when considering boundary changes, to determine if “additional parameters” need to be included.
After gathering data, WXY plans to develop a geospatial tool to map current boundaries and what potential changes based on student demographics, transportation patterns, geographic proximity to schools and school use might look like. WXY will examine whether there should be periodic boundary reviews.
The firm will use an already-developed “school rezoning model” to test swapping school facilities to different boundaries and what impact those changes would have.
WXY’s project team will produce three boundary plan options based on its work, to be presented to the public in the summer.
The firm will meet biweekly with MCPS to provide updates.
Some key points from the WXY Architecture proposal are:
- WXY submitted a joint proposal with D.C.-based Special ProjX LLC, a public engagement consulting firm. The firm will handle community outreach, including administering online and street surveys, workshops and open houses. Special ProjX will use live polling and mobile engagement, according to its proposal, as well as “timely and clearly written” news releases, “carefully arranged media interviews,” a twice-monthly email newsletter and a website with information about the study.
- The firm will organize 11 community meetings throughout the county at dates to be determined. Plans for the meetings include “specific goals” about “the type of individuals we want there.”
“A special effort will be made to identify and reach out to those who are generally ‘hard to reach,’ ” including young adults, low-income residents and immigrants.
- As consultants explore boundary and utilization options within MCPS, they will consider how the concept of “community schools” can be used to provide extracurricular services to students. However, WXY will be “critical in its evaluation of recommending these programs” because similar programs have been repealed in other states. “Community schools” are schools that serve as both an educational institution and a type of community gathering space. During public meetings about the boundary analysis earlier this year, some community members said they feared boundary changes would force students to be bused far from home and eliminate community schools.
- WXY Architecture estimates the cost of the project to be $473,800, according to its proposal. More than $377,000 of the total is designated as costs to complete the analysis and for community engagement.
- The architecture firm lists several projects it spearheaded across the country relating to diversifying large school districts and examining school boundaries. WXY has done boundary analyses in Washington, Missouri; Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Largo, Florida. A school “diversification” project was completed in New York City.
- Key dates for the project are outlined in the proposal. A “baseline cluster analysis,” looking at current school and cluster conditions, will be published in mid-December and an interim report in February 2020. The final report will be presented to the school board in May 2020.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org