2019 | Schools

Updated boundary analysis project plan released

Documents make clear that consultant will not recommend boundary changes

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A map of MCPS schools and clusters


Amid growing consternation over a countywide review of school attendance boundaries, the Montgomery County school district and consultants have released new documents outlining an updated project plan.

For weeks, advocates have pressed the school district and consultants hired for the review to release documents supporting their claims that the project will not lead directly to boundary changes.

Shortly before the winter holidays, and one week after a tense meeting at Julius West Middle School, where attendees booed and interrupted presenters, MCPS released those documents.

The 128-page memo provides an updated project scope that removes language indicating consultants will recommend boundary changes and adds more opportunities for community engagement.

In January, the school board authorized a $475,000 review of school boundaries, which determine what schools students attend based on where they live. The study tasked consultants with providing a synopsis of MCPS schools’ capacity, their socioeconomic composition and community members’ thoughts about the project. Data will be compared to similarly sized school districts across the country.

The project scope originally submitted by WXY Architecture + Urban Design, the firm hired for the project, said the company would recommend “cluster boundary reassignments.”

But MCPS spokespeople in December said that the project proposal was an initial idea for the project and had been altered.

At the time, though, neither MCPS nor WXY officials would elaborate or explain why a reference to recommending reassignments remained in the plans.

The new memo says the changes to the project’s scope were made at a meeting with WXY and MCPS staff in September, but the memo was not itself sent to MCPS leadership until Dec. 19.

The recently released documents show that along with eliminating references to “recommending” boundary changes, WXY will create an “interactive tool” allowing meeting attendees to understand “the implications of boundary modifications on utilization, diversity and proximity to schools.”

That tool will be available at public meetings, but will not be available online, as previously expected, according to the WXY memo.

The memo also removes a section about examining the effectiveness of “community schools.” That section had said WXY would “be critical in its evaluation of recommending these programs given that similar programs have been repealed from education agendas, in states such as New York.”

The boundary debate has drawn a sharp line between Montgomery County residents. On one side is a group of people who support the analysis, advocating for more diverse schools. On the other is a group that opposes the analysis, citing a lack of transparency from project leaders and a fear of lengthy bus rides for students.

Both have formed official groups to organize and unify their arguments. Supporters in a group called One Montgomery plan to meet on Sunday in Silver Spring to “better understand the issue, create an organizing strategy and tactics for the upcoming events, create the necessary materials, and generally bond as a united front for educational equity, data-informed policy, and fiscal responsibility,” according to a post on Facebook.

The group’s website says it will advocate the school board “carefully consider WXY’s analysis” and “provide recommendations and options to county residents within six months” of the study’s completion.

At the same time on Sunday, members of the opposing group, Montgomery County MD Neighbors for Local Schools (formerly Montgomery County MD Neighbors for Local Schools Without Redistricting), plan to meet with opponents of the analysis who might want to run for school board.

There are three seats up for election this year — in Districts 2 and 4 and at-large.

In District 2, current board member Rebecca Smondrowski has said she plans to run for re-election, as has District 4 board member and school board President Shebra Evans. Jeanette Dixon, who holds the at-large seat, will not run for re-election.

The candidacy filing deadline is Jan. 24. As of Thursday, no candidates had officially filed with the state Board of Elections.

The consultants will provide an interim report in February, including the data they have gathered and information about “opportunities and constraints,” according to WXY’s project plan.

Then, additional community meetings will be held before a final report is presented to the public in May.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com