2016 | Schools

MCPS Superintendent’s Plan Won’t Eliminate Overcrowding at Ashburton Elementary School

Plan calls for new addition, modular classroom and moving a special education program out of the Bethesda school

Ashburton Elementary School

Montgomery County Public Schools

The most overcrowded elementary school in the Walter Johnson High School cluster would remain over capacity in five years even if Montgomery County Public Schools adds a planned addition and a modular classroom and relocates a special education program, according to the school system.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith introduced his plan earlier this month to reduce overcrowding at the school. However, the three-part plan doesn’t eliminate overcrowding at the school, which would be about 140 students over capacity by 2023.

Ashburton, which has a capacity of 651 students, currently has an enrollment of 905 students—254 students over capacity.

“I don’t see this as a solution,” Ashburton PTA president Sharon Watts said Monday of the MCPS plan. “These recommendations are a Band-Aid for a problem that’s continuing to build.”

Watts said there are so many students attending the school this year that the building initially didn’t have enough chairs and some students sat on trash cans at the beginning of the school year. The school can’t hold assemblies with its entire population because there isn’t a space big enough to hold all of its students. Special events like inviting fathers to come eat donuts with their kids results in the school reaching its allowable capacity under the county’s fire code, she said.

“We need a new elementary school in the cluster,” Watts said. “Every school in the [Walter Johnson High School] cluster has been advocating for that.”

MCPS had planned a large addition at the school that would have brought its capacity to about 880 students in 2019. However, Smith walked back that plan in favor of a smaller addition and a modular classroom in order to prevent the school from permanently growing to a capacity of more than 740 students, which is the upper limit of the district’s capacity range for elementary schools. That move was supported by the community, which also didn't want a large elementary school.

The smaller addition, which would be completed in 2019, plus the modular classroom would bring the capacity of the school to 770 students, according to Smith’s recommendation. The modular classroom would then be removed when a new elementary school is built in the cluster, according to Smith, although he notes attendance in the cluster doesn’t warrant a new school yet.

James Song, the school system’s director of facilities, said Monday he can’t predict exactly when the cluster will need a new elementary school. The modular classroom that’s planned for Ashburton would aesthetically look like it’s part of the school building, Song said.

The superintendent’s plan also calls for transferring the school’s special education program—known as the Preschool Education Program—to Bradley Hills and Luxmanor Elementary schools. Moving that program would enable the school to use four additional classroom and increase its capacity by 26 seats.

Even with these steps, the elementary school would be 212 students over capacity next school year, 226 students over capacity in 2018-2019 and, after the addition is added, about 135 students over capacity from 2019 to 2023, according to MCPS enrollment projections.

Enrollment projections at Ashburton Elementary under the superintendent's plan. Luxmanor Elementary is scheduled to receive a new addition as well in 2019 that would reduce overcrowding at that school. Under the superintendent's plan, students may be reassigned from Farmland Elementary to Luxmanor after the addition is completed to reduce overcrowding at Farmland.

Ashburton is also facing the possibility that two new developments within its boundaries could add more students than currently projected by MCPS. Developer Toll Brothers introduced a plan earlier this year to build 328 homes on the 75-acre WMAL radio tower site near the I-270 spur. Meanwhile, EYA recently started selling townhomes in its 168-residence Montgomery Row project on Fernwood Road to some buyers who include “young families who want to be in the Bethesda school district,” according to The Washington Post.