Thursday, February 24, 2005

Weast says he's committed to reducing class size

County school Superintendent Jerry Weast says he's committed to reducing class size in public schools, but he doesn't try to justify his plan to demolish an uncrowded elementary school and build a "replacement" that's three times the size and on a smaller piece of land.

Citing parental requests, the school system says it's going to make classes smaller to give kids more attention. "We have heard a lot from the community about the need for individualized instruction, particularly in elementary school, with the more rigorous and defined curriculum," school system budget director Marshall C. Spatz told the Montgomery County Sentinel.

"We know that smaller classes give teachers more time with each student. More time with each student means more time to reach each student," Superintendent Weast said. "Helping out students grow and progress in elementary school with smaller classes leads to academic success later on when our students take rigorous courses in high school."

"Our efforts to reduce class size will give teachers more time to teach and students more one-on-one time with their teachers," said Board of Education President Patricia B. O'Neill.

Parents of kids at the all-but-condemned Seven Locks Elementary School welcome the idea but are wondering how the county can justify closing their children's uncrowded 258-student school and building a "replacement" three times the size on a smaller piece of land.

Affordable housing buyouts increase pressure to shut school

The following was written by a member of the Potomac Master Plan Advisory Group about why school land must be kept for school kids:

The Potomac 20-year Master Plan of 2002 indicated the quarry on River Road at the Beltway for affordable housing, but the County is moving to allow that developer to buy out of his affordable housing obligation - even though the County Council approved the Master Plan!

That buy-out, and every other buy-out, increases the pressure on communities to come up with alternative sites as we approach full build-out. With the emphasis on full. It also undercuts the Master Plan process that the County asks citizens to spend hundreds of hours participating in - only to have it all tossed aside when a developer's push comes up against a community's shove.

Guess who usually wins. We as PTAs must stay focused on SCHOOL land for SCHOOL uses. Period.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Cox sees Kendale issue as 'ripe for a lawsuit'

Board of Education member Sharon Cox says the board's mysterious decision to shut down Seven Locks Elementary School (SLES) rather than surplus a school site on Kendale Road in Potomac is "ripe for a lawsuit."

The flip-flop came in early 2004, after the board agreed with County Executive Doug Duncan's request to give up the property and allow Duncan to build a subsidized housing project there. Instead, the board decided to build a "replacement" school on the wooded site and shut down SLES. The board says it has no plans to surplus the SLES land, but its refusal to explain its flip-flop and its near frantic effort to bulldoze the Seven Locks PTA indicate possible conflicts of interests or political corruption.

The Business Gazette reports: "Cox pointed to the board's recent decision not to surplus a school site on Kendale Road in Potomac as being ripe for a lawsuit. The council has asked the board to declare the site a surplus property and turn it over to the county for the construction of affordable housing. Instead, the board decided to look at the property as a site for a replacement to Seven Locks Elementary School.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Teacher commutes 2 hours from Frederick because he likes Montgomery County's politics

While some Montgomery County teachers whine about their half-hour commute to work, Montgomery Blair High School teacher Joseph Lynch says his two-hour commute from less expensive Frederick is worth it because he prefers the county's "liberal perspective" to that of his own town.

In a piece on how many Montgomery County teachers say they can't afford to live in the area because of the high home prices, the Montgomery Blair online newspaper reports on the contrarian language resources teacher: "Lynch has decided to stay in part because he likes the political climate in Montgomery County, as opposed to the one in which he lives. 'I prefer the culture here in Montgomery County. I prefer the liberal perspective. It's really close to reactionary in Frederick,' Lynch says."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Perez acknowledges county's bad reputation statewide

Montgomery County is disliked by other Marylanders and would not help its cause by making its state school funding positions known, says a top county legislator.

Most county leaders, including County Executive Doug Duncan, oppose Gov. Bob Ehrlich's idea of state-sponsored slots gambling to fund the state's schools. While Duncan and Councilman Steve Silverman have been vocal to their opposition, other of their partisans recognize that most Marylanders dislike Montgomery County.

"The perception of Montgomery County outside of Montgomery County is relevant," Council President Thomas E. Perez told the Gazette. "If you really care about making sure slots for school construction don't happen, it doesn't help to have Montgomery County on record."

Monday, February 14, 2005

Kendale facility advisory committee votes against MCPS school proposal

This notice circulated on February 14:

The Kendale Elementary School Facility Advisory Committee voted on the following motions:

Item 1. The Kendale Facility Advisory Committee states that the current proposed school size is in excess of what the site can support. The Kendale School Site is smaller than called for in MCPS/Board of Education guidelines. Further, the Kendale Elementary School Facility Advisory Committee states that the Kendale proposal does not meet other concerns such as field space, access, parking, and walkers. The Kendale Elementary School Facility Advisory Committee would like MCPS Board of Education to explore alternatives.

35 FOR
5 Oppose
11 Abstain

Item 2. The Kendale Facility Advisory Committee recommends that the Kendale School enrollment size be in proportion to MCPS/Board of Education FAA guidelines given that the Kendale site has only 8 usable acres versus the guidelines of 12 usable acres. The Kendale Elementary School size should be 66% of the standard MCPS school size enrollment of 740.

22 FOR
4 Oppose
15 Abstain

Item 3. Save Seven Locks Elementary School and build a smaller school on the Kendale site.

This was a voice vote and it was UNANIMOUS.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Hawes of MCPS thinks corruption Is funny; Tokar evades questions

Here is the text of a widely-circulated e-mail from one Seven Locks Elementary School parent to James Tokar and Richard G. Hawes of Montgomery County Public Schools:

Dear Mr. Tokar,

As a Seven Locks Elementary School parent and PTA member, I appreciate your responsiveness to our community’s questions about costs and other factors concerning the “replacement school” planned for the Kendale Road site in Potomac.

However, you have not answered repeated questions asking for your professional opinion of how corruption generally affects the costs of public school construction in Montgomery County. You have not answered questions about procedures and practices in place to ensure against corruption. You have apparently ignored questions about whether or not your department was involved with prosecuting even a single corruption case over the past 15 years, and you have been silent when asked your professional and personal opinion about whether an outside prosecutor should be appointed to investigate concerns about corruption in county school construction.

Your colleague, Richard Hawes, ridiculed these questions at a recent meeting at Seven Locks School, and declined to answer them.

These are serious questions to a serious issue: MCPS unofficially agreed to a politician’s request to shut down Seven Locks School in Bethesda, so the politician can build a huge housing project on the soon-to-be-former schoolyard. MCPS railroads the construction of a new “replacement school” that’s triple the size of the surplused school. The new mega school will sit on a plot of usable land that’s only 60 percent the size of the soon-to-be-surplused school, with no room for expansion to accommodate the hundreds of children likely to live on the site of the existing school on Seven Locks Road and Bradley Boulevard.

All this despite the overwhelming, repeated objections of the doomed school’s PTA.

You as the MCPS project manager solicited written questions from PTA members, and you answered them all, to varying degrees – except questions concerning corruption.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Families print T-shirts, buttons to Save Seven Locks School

Some Seven Locks Elementary School families designed T-shirts, buttons, notebooks and even teddy bears to raise awareness of what the county wants to do to their school.

The items are offered at-cost. Click here for details.

Talking points for Martin O'Malley

The following memorandum is a set of talking points by a Bethesda Democratic party activist for Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. The mayor is set to run for Maryland governor in an expected intra-Democratic party race against Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan.

The key points are:


o Why tear down a perfectly fine school when the County and State are strapped for school construction money?

o Why won’t the School Board address the questions raised by the community about cost of various options for Seven Locks?

o Why not opt, for example, for simple addition to Seven Locks (10 classrooms and gym) to address immediate problem of overcrowding at Potomac ES -- could be done without any holding school and be ready one year earlier than Kendale replacement

o Why waste money when citizens in this area are outraged by skyrocketing tax assessments?

Due Process

o Why can’t the community get a full public hearing?

o Decision on Seven Locks was sprung on community in Spring 2004 (after three years of planning and budgeting for expansion/modernization of Seven Locks ES)

o Weast decision came out of blue

o Decision was not just to change school but to close our school -- important to us as community center and neighborhood recreation center -- and surplus site for affordable housing -- a fundamental change in the neighborhood

o School Board has consistently misrepresented community position, cost and rationale for change of decision.

o County - Board and Council - seem intent on stealth attack to assure that some developer gets Seven Locks site - with result that two neighborhoods are changed fundamentally (Seven Locks and Kendale) and Potomac neighborhood is still left with antiquated school that will not be modernized until 2015.

o What sense does any of this make?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Tokar on core requirements of 640 and 740

The following is a memorandum from James Tokar, MCPS project manager for the Seven Locks "replacement" school, responding to a SLES parent's questions about requirements for core student bodies of 640 and 740.

Responses to Questions:

Which elementary schools in the county have been designed for a core of 740 students?

Response: The following elementary schools are being designed with a 740 core: Galway, College Gardens, Northwest #7, and Clarksburg #7. Since 2001, all of our new or replacement elementary schools (Glen Haven, Lakewood, and Spark Matsunaga) have been built with a core of 740.

Can you please provide me with the county's (Adrienne's definition) of what "building to a core of 740" means?

Response: MCPS builds elementary schools with either a 640 or a 740 core. The core of the building includes the “common” spaces such as the Media Center, the Multi-Purpose Room, and the Administrative Suite. The aforementioned “common” areas are larger in a 740 core to accommodate the potential student enrollment of 740 students.

2. How does this definition differ from the prior FAA requirements to only build an elementary school to a MAXIMUM CAPACITY of 550 students?

Response: The Board of Education’s Long-Range Educational Facilities Planning FAA Policy states in Section C, Number 5, Subsection (a) that a preferred range of enrollment for schools is two to four classes per grade of students in an elementary school. That equates to 588 students in kindergarten through Grade 5, not including special education classrooms. The section continues with “Departures from the preferred range may occur if educational program justifies or requires it.” Furthermore the section states that “Fiscal constraints may also require MCPS to build schools of other sizes.” There is no prior FAA requirement that states elementary schools can only be built at a maximum capacity of 550 students.

3. What are the core building requirements for a 550 core school?

Response: As previously stated, MCPS builds elementary schools with either a core for 640 or 740 students.

4. I would like a side by side comparison of how the two core designs differ. Line by line on the specifications please.

Response: The square footage differences between a 640 and 740 core are listed below:
Media Center

(640 Core) 1800 Sq.Ft.
(740 Core) 2100 Sq.Ft.
Sq.Ft. Difference: 300

Media Storage
(640 Core) 400
(740 Core) 500
Sq.Ft. Difference: 100

General Office
(640 Core) 375
(740 Core) 500
Sq.Ft. Difference 125

(640 Core) 300
(740 Core) 350
Sq.Ft. Difference 50

Multipurpose Room
(640 Core) 3200
(740 Core) 3700
Sq.Ft. Difference 500

Chair Storage
(640 Core) 150
(740 Core) 200
Sq.Ft. Difference 50

Table Storage
(640 Core) 150
(740 Core) 200
Sq.Ft. Difference 50

Dual Purpose Room (Flexible Space)
(640 Core) 0
(740 Core) 1000
Sq.Ft. difference 1000
(640 Core) 6375 Sq.Ft.
(740 Core) 8550 Sq.Ft.
Sq.Ft. Difference 2175

Monday, February 07, 2005

Questions for February 8 SLES meeting with Jim Tokar

A parent wrote the following to MCPS Project Coordinator Tokar:

Dear Mr. Tokar:

Re: Questions for February 8 Seven Locks Meeting

I am the parent of 2 students at the existing Seven Locks Elementary School (SLES). Like other parents, I bought my house and pay my taxes (which are increasing by leaps and bounds) so my children can attend our chosen school, SLES, and in reliance on the existence of the School. Since our lives have been built around this School, which has performed superbly since its establishment, we have questions about its proposed destruction and replacement by a new Kendale School.

1. At the last meeting, in response to my question from the floor, you said that creation of playing fields at the Kendale site would require significant leveling of the presently uneven site and cutting down "thousands" of trees. When I asked how much more this would cost compared to the zero cost of the existing, already cleared and leveled SLES playing fields, you said you were "not here to talk about dollars." As taxpayers, we are paying for the excess cost and are therefore concerned about waste. Would you please answer my question (including the costs of required reforestation at Kendale).

2. I would also like you to tell me: (a) why you said you were not available to "talk about dollars," since dollars are a major feature of any architectural design; (b) whether you declined to discuss dollars on your own initiative or at the direction of someone else; and (c) if at the direction of someone else, who the directing person or persons were.

3. At the last meeting, it was revealed that the playing field(s) at the proposed Kendale site would be smaller than the existing multiple playing fields at SLES, but exact figures on the relative sizes of the fields were not provided. Could you please provided these figures, including the size of the proposed Kendale field(s) as a percentage of the existing SLES fields (i.e. Kendale = X% of the existing SLES fields).

4. The parking lots and asphalts surfaces at SLES are already paid for. What will be the incremental cost of clearing, leveling and paving the equivalent surfaces at the new Kendale site (plus required reforestation), as compared with the zero cost of the existing parking lots and asphalt surfaces at SLES? Also, what will be the total size of the proposed parking lots and asphalt surfaces at Kendale as compared with the existing lots and surfaces at SLES?

5. I am concerned about the waste involved in pursuing plans for Kendale, in the face of massive public opposition to the plans. Please provide a breakdown of the public funds that have been spent on planning, consulting, engineering, architectural and other work for the Kendale proposal. Your breakdown should include direct and indirect expenditures, including expenditures on outside contractors and internal expenditures (including the cost of public personnel).

6. I apologize for the short notice in submitting my questions. I had thought the February 8 meeting was an open meeting for concerned citizens to ask questions, but learned by sheer chance that questions had to be pre-submitted in writing. In this connection, please tell me: (a) if my understanding (that questions must be pre-submitted in writing) is correct; (b) if so, whether, how, and when public notice of this requirement was provided; (c) how citizens unaware of this requirement will have their questions answered; and (d) who directed that this requirement be imposed.

7. Please identify all persons with whom you consult, confer or communicate in connection with answering these questions and describe each such consultation, conference or communication.
8. If you are unable to answer any of these questions, please arrange for them to be answered by those who have responsive information.

9. If you object to answering any of these questions, please state the grounds of your objections and identify all persons involved in the decision to raise objections.

I would appreciate it if you could answer these questions in writing and also orally on the record at the February 8, 2005 meeting. Thank you for your attention.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Soccer moms take note: County may make it harder for you

The following letter was distributed by a local soccer coach about the value of the large Seven Locks Elementary School field to the community:

In working to get the field permit for my 3rd grade boys soccer team (all Seven Locks students), I was denied my five top choices of days and times to practice at SLES. In my ensuing conversation, the person in charge of parsing out the field spaces told me that SLES is one of the most (if not the most) requested field sites. He was surprised and unhappy (one might say chagrined) to hear of the potential loss of that field space.

Is this another place we could seek support - from community sports teams? I know from personal experience that MSI, BCC baseball and MYLA lacrosse all practice on our field. The counter argument could be that the new school would also provide field space - but I would rebut that it will not be enough. On a typical fall or spring day, SLES has at least three different teams practicing from virtually right after school until dark. Sometimes we share and there can be as many as six teams out there.

[Blogger's note: The architectural and landscape designs for the Kendale "replacement school" show space for only one soccer field, superimposed with a baseball diamond and softball diamond. There is no room for more than one soccer game at a time.]

As a working mom and coach, scheduling a weekly practice further away (even Bells Mill or Wayside) becomes a hardship.

As much as I am not happy about losing SLES, I am even more unhappy about losing the field space on which I have been playing since 1972.

I would also add that given our new property tax assessments, I am a bit frustrated to think that I will pay more and receive less.

Also, as plans proceed forward to building the new school, has the districting been discussed? I wonder if the new school would then draw from other areas - and if so, what input new families would have. Some of my friends who live behind Potomac Community Center have wondered the same thing. This feels like another area of the process that is not transparent enough. Might some of the voices speaking end up districted to another school?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Washington Post: Duncan's 'building spree' neglects schools

County Executive Doug Duncan's $200 million "building spree" has created fancy housing developments, a beautiful concert hall, and lots of commercial projects, but his taxpayer-funded binge has hurt Montgomery County schools, the Washington Post reports.

Saying he's "very proud" of having urbanized the once-quiet Montgomery County community, he has little comment on how his central planning has forced 17,000 Silver Spring kids into portable classrooms.

"Everything I have tried to do is about bringing the community together and building a sense of community," Duncan told the Post. "We have transformed from a bedroom community into an urban center and the economic engine of the state of Maryland, and I am very proud of that."

According to the Post: "Although business and community leaders offer generally glowing reviews of Duncan's record in executing big projects, there is concern about long-term fiscal implications of the building spree.

"Although the county has spent more than $100 million to revitalize Silver Spring, the school system has been unable to keep pace with enrollments. About 17,000 students are being taught in portable classrooms."

Former County Council member Blair G. Ewing, a Democrat, said, "I think the conference center, the new jail and Strathmore Hall fall into the category of expenses we could have forgone in assuring our public schools were top-flight."

"Duncan, noting that 14 new schools have been built on his watch, said his investments go beyond new cultural venues," according to the Post.

"There are signs, however, that all those projects, most funded with bonds that have to be repaid, have taken a toll on the county's bottom line.

"In 2002, Governing Magazine and Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Affairs gave the county B grades for financial management, human resources, managing for results and information technology, and a C for capital management. The study cited delays, cost overruns and a backlog of road maintenance projects as reasons for the average grade."

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Tearing apart communities, brick by brick

"Everything I have tried to do is about bringing the community together and building a sense of community."

That's what Doug Duncan says about his taxpayer-funded construction projects in a Washington Post profile.