PTA Leaders, Parents Urge Board of Education to Approve More School Space in Capital Budget

PTA Leaders, Parents Urge Board of Education to Approve More School Space in Capital Budget

Parents from around the county showed up at a Monday night public hearing to talk about overcrowded schools

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Tilden Middle School on Old Georgetown Road in the former Woodward High School building

Via MCPS

Parents and students from around the county packed a Board of Education (BOE) public hearing Monday night to make the case why the proposed school construction projects in their school clusters should be approved.

In most cases, they were preaching to the choir.

The board is likely to approve the vast majority of the $1.72 billion capital budget recommended last month by Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers, leaving parents with the more difficult challenges of pushing for the money to be included in the final county capital budget next spring and advocating for state funding to pay for the projects.

You can see most of the testimony provided at the public hearing on the BOE’s website. The board is expected to approve the capital budget request Nov. 16. Here are three major capital budget issues discussed last night during the first of two public hearings on the recommendations:

Parents in the Walter Johnson Cluster Want to Reopen Woodward High School, But Not if it Means Redrawing School Boundaries:

Liz King, a PTA coordinator in the Walter Johnson High School cluster, told the BOE that the PTAs at the nine schools in the cluster are in agreement that reopening Woodward High School on Old Georgetown Road is the “preferable option” for relieving overcrowding at Walter Johnson.

But King made clear that option is preferable only if the superintendent and the board announce publicly that “all current Walter Johnson cluster students and cluster schools will be districted to either [Walter Johnson] or Woodward.”

Bowers has recommended a “roundtable discussion group” of parents and staff to discuss many options for relieving overcrowding in the cluster, including reopening Woodward after Tilden Middle School leaves the building in 2020.

In that recommendation, Bowers made clear there would be no redistricting study, but that hasn’t stopped many in the Walter Johnson cluster from being wary.

While many would prefer to reopen Woodward instead of building another addition at Walter Johnson that could bring the school’s population to 3,200 students, King said parents wouldn’t support the move if it meant redistricting their kids to a high school that’s not Walter Johnson or Woodward.

“We want this to be a successful process—without acrimony, without community outrage, and certainly without litigation,” King said. “We’re sure you want those things too. Please help us smooth the way.”

Gaithersburg Parents Want Additions for Existing Schools, Not a Redistricting into Neighboring Clusters

Bowers also recommended a roundtable discussion group to study if some students in the overcrowded Gaithersburg High School cluster should be redistricted into the neighboring Thomas S. Wootton and Col. Zadok Magruder high school clusters.

PTA leaders in Gaithersburg told the board Monday that the school system’s first priority should be adding classroom space to elementary schools in Gaithersburg.

“We the people have witnessed other communities get their issues addressed, while our communities continue to grow and we are being asked to take a seat and talk some more,” said Oscar Alvarenga, the PTA president at Summit Hall Elementary School. “One thing is for sure, the Gaithersburg community is not interested in being bused out.”

Carolyn Garvey, the PTA president at Gaithersburg Elementary School, criticized Bowers for suggesting an addition shouldn’t be built at the school because it’s already at a capacity of 771 students.

“MCPS’ rationale for not expanding Gaithersburg Elementary beyond 771 students is not consistent with its recommendation to build Ashburton Elementary in the Walter Johnson cluster to accommodate 880 students,” Garvey said. “Thus, 771 seems no longer to be the limit in Montgomery County. …All we ask is that MCPS build capacity to accommodate our students, like is proposed for Ashburton ES.”

Bowers has recommended moving up the Ashburton addition project so that it’s finished in August 2019 instead of August 2020.

Garvey also said moving some of the Gaithersburg cluster students from low-income families to schools such as Wootton and Magruder could actually create a disadvantage for those students.

“By moving kids out of Title 1 [low-income] schools to locations where they will not receive the same Title 1 services and support is only going to hinder the closing of the achievement gap in Montgomery County,” Garvey said.

Last week, the BOE voted to consider adding the Quince Orchard High School cluster to the mix when it came to the boundary discussion recommended by Bowers.

Should Neighborhood Groups Be Included in Roundtable Discussions?

With a roundtable discussion group possible for the Walter Johnson cluster, one neighborhood leader questioned whether civic leaders should be included in the process.

Abbe Milstein, president of the Luxmanor Citizens Association, told the board that “by excluding members of the community from these discussion groups, important information about neighborhood impact on infrastructure, roads and traffic, as well as concerns about basic utility impact on water, power, sewer, electric and gas, would go unaddressed.”

Roundtable discussion groups are made up mainly of parents, staff and students from the schools that are part of the discussion. The suggestions from the groups are often taken into consideration when the superintendent is making project recommendations.

That was the case earlier this year, when Bowers and the board decided to move ahead with collocating Tilden Middle School and the Rock Terrace special needs school at the former Tilden Middle School site in the Luxmanor neighborhood.

That decision came despite opposition from many in the neighborhood who argued roads and the school site were too small for the collocation project.

“The community encourages the Board of Education and the superintendent to engage the community in a dialogue when it comes to opening mega-schools within our neighborhood,” Milstein said, “and to seek resolution to the potential impact on the environment and traffic concerns we have.”

According to MCPS, members of the roundtable groups are selected by local PTA officials and staff from the school system’s Division of Long-range Planning and Department of Facilities Management, which leads the discussions.

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