MCPS Taking Action To Address Concerns About Security, Maintenance Issues

MCPS Taking Action To Address Concerns About Security, Maintenance Issues

Deteriorating school restrooms and pedestrian safety among concerns in schools

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The Montgomery County Board of Education meets Friday morning in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

Public comments at recent school board hearings didn’t fall on deaf ears.

More than 100 people have testified in recent weeks at school board meetings concerning Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith’s proposed fiscal 2020 capital budget and amendments to the 2019-2024 capital improvement plan.

Some common themes that arose included general maintenance concerns, including restrooms in disarray and crumbling ceiling tiles in schools. Additionally, many people drew attention to potential security issues arising from the use of portable classrooms and pedestrian safety.

The testimony drew MCPS staff to action, and many of the issues are already being addressed, Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman told the school board Friday morning.

For example, he said, some school representatives said pedestrian safety on their campuses is an issue, and in response school safety staff have already visited or plan to go to the schools and assess the issues to develop an appropriate solution.

In regard to safety, staff is reviewing work orders and holding weekly meetings during which heads of various departments gather to “triage and prioritize” safety and security concerns that arise and collaborate to troubleshoot, Zuckerman said.

Rebecca Smondrowski, a board member representing District 2, suggested also investigating the cost of installing security cameras outside of portable classrooms.

“It seems like something like that shouldn’t be real high-dollar that could provide a lot of comfort to a lot of families,” Smondrowski said.

Additionally, Smith on Friday recommended allocating an additional $5 million to his proposed capital budget to perform general maintenance in schools.

Board member Pat O’Neill said she hopes some of that money goes specifically toward restroom renovations.

At the public hearings, several students condemned the conditions of restrooms in their schools, citing broken and leaking toilets and sinks, a lack of protection between the skin and toilet seat, broken hand dryers, empty soap dispensers and peeling paint.

“I think those situations are a health issue,” O’Neill said. “It would be unacceptable to an adult in the workplace and … I think it’s time we put a stake in the ground to ensure our bathrooms are safe and functional for our students.”

Board member Jill Ortman-Fouse informally proposed the school district create an online system in which people can see what repair orders have been submitted at each school. The goal, she said, would be to both increase transparency and allow students and parents to see if their particular concerns are being addressed.

Board member Judy Docca drew attention to an “appalling” ABC7 news report this week that showed serious maintenance issues at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Derwood, including a sink that fell off a wall, stall doors missing in bathrooms and ceiling tiles falling to the ground.

While Docca acknowledged the issues are serious, she said the report glazed over an important factor: the money it takes to conduct repairs across MCPS’ 206 schools.

“The more we can emphasize how large this is and how much this costs, the better,” Docca said. “Everything in (the capital budget) is contingent on money.”

Because no board members proposed new alternatives to the proposed capital budget recommendations and CIP amendments, the board will not hold another public hearing, and is expected to take final action Nov. 27.

“I feel very strongly about the CIP being the best we can do,” Smondrowski said. “It’s well prioritized and a step in the right direction.”

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