Monday, May 08, 2006

Smoking gun: Doug Duncan's memo that started the Kendale scandal

County Executive Doug Duncan has been happy to let his friends take the heat for the Kendale scandal so he can focus on campaigning for governor.

But Duncan started the crisis, so he is every bit as responsible for it as Superintendent Jerry Weast and the Board of Education.

Here's the document that started the entire ordeal: Duncan's October 20, 2003 letter to Weast asking that the superintendent (who is also MCPS secretary-treasurer) to declare vacant school land "to be no longer needed for school purposes."

Readers may click on the document for a larger image.

Duncan told Weast specifically that he wanted the land "to be transferred to the County for development with [high-density] affordable housing."

The county executive didn't ask Weast to tear down Seven Locks Elementary School (SLES). He asked for the much smaller undeveloped property on Kendale Road.

Duncan added in the letter that there was no need for a new or larger school, based on MCPS-supplied statistics: "Based on information on your staff thus far, I understand that demographic projections indicate that there is little probability that another middle school will be needed in this part of the Potomac area."

Weast and the school board opted to keep the smaller lot for the children's education, and give Duncan the much larger and better-located SLES campus on the corner of Bradley Boulevard and Seven Locks Road.

The result has been the Kendale scandal, in which MCPS chose to pack up to three times as many children at SLES on a usable parcel of land only 60 percent the size.

All in the name of putting the children first.

When the Seven Locks PTA said it wanted to save its school, Weast and MCPS attacked. As an Inspector General investigation found, MCPS used improper and possibly illegal means to try to get its way.

Weast easily could have put the children first and declined Duncan's request. Instead, he complied.

MCPS insisted to the local Parent Teacher Associations that that part of the Potomac area needed a much larger new elementary school (not middle school as Duncan indicated), even though now it appears that the demographics are more as MCPS had told Duncan in 2003, and not as it had told the public from 2003 to the present.

MCPS wanted to have its big new school on the small Kendale property, and hand over the large and ample Seven Locks campus to the county for purposes that did not put the children's interests first. School officials repeatedly denied any plans for a housing development.

When PTA members and community leaders protested, MCPS and one or two County Council members accused them of being bigots. MCPS forged ahead despite near-total community opposition.

More recently, MCPS has been pitting communities against one another in order to get its way on Kendale. Its latest move has been to draw Bells Mill School into the controversy. The overcrowded school is in need of refurbishment and expansion, but was never part of the Kendale issue until recent days when school board member Steve "Abramoff" Abrams, seeking at least some community support, proposed building Kendale as a holding school for Bells Mill students. Weast and other board members immediately embraced the idea.

The whole issue reeks of a crooked deal. The question is, will Duncan try to unhook himself from this one - or will he let his friends take the political and legal heat?