2021 | Schools

Options for Bethesda-area elementary school boundaries expected next week

Regions for Bethesda, Somerset and Westbrook elementary schools to be decided in November

A map of the boundary study area.

Screenshot via live stream

Next week, Montgomery County Public Schools officials will release several possibilities for boundary changes affecting some elementary schools in Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

The timeline was announced Monday during a virtual meeting outlining the process for an ongoing boundary study for three elementary schools — Bethesda, Somerset and Westbrook. The study is being done to relieve crowding at Bethesda and Somerset.

MCPS staff members said the district will release several options for boundary changes next week and hold meetings on Monday and Tuesday to answer community members’ questions. After the boundary options are released, an online survey will be open for about two weeks for community members to submit feedback.

Staff members did not say when the options will be released or how many options there will be.

In 2019, MCPS began a boundary study to explore ways to relieve crowding at Somerset Elementary School in Chevy Chase.

MCPS planned to construct a classroom addition at nearby Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda and conduct a boundary study to move some students from Somerset to Westbrook.

The school district previously planned to build a $16.7 million addition at Bethesda Elementary in 2025.

But as the pandemic strains local and state budgets, Superintendent Jack Smith presented a new proposal.

In November, the school board approved Smith’s revised pitch, which forgoes the Bethesda Elementary project and builds the $4.4 million addition at Westbrook. The boundary study will determine how to reassign students from Bethesda and Somerset elementary schools to Westbrook.

Westbrook has space for about 222 students. The addition would make space for about 70 additional students.

Somerset, on Warwick Place, is projected to have about 80 more students than its maximum capacity by 2026. Because it is on a 3.7-acre site, which is considered small, there is little room for the school district to place temporary classrooms to accommodate the crowding.

According to MCPS data, Bethesda Elementary has an enrollment of about 670 students and is built to hold 560.

The addition at Westbrook is expected to be completed by September 2023.

Several attendees of Monday night’s meeting submitted questions, answered by MCPS staff members, about why the boundary study is being conducted now, as MCPS enrollment fluctuates amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Adrienne Karamihas, director of MCPS’ Division of Capital Planning, said staff members are simply doing their job, asked of them by the school board.

She said the district has taken the pandemic into account in making its enrollment projections, and that MCPS expects many of the students who have left for homeschooling and private schools to return.

Others raised concerns about the timing of the study, but for different reasons.

Smith recently announced his retirement, which is expected to begin in June. The resolution authorizing the boundary study says the superintendent will recommend final boundary changes in October, meaning a new chief or interim superintendent will be charged with making the recommendation.

Karamihas acknowledged the concerns, and highlighted that the school board makes final decisions about boundary changes. The school board is expected to finalize boundary changes in November.

A second meeting with the same information is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday evening.