ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Board of Education voted Monday night to approve new boundaries for the Richard Montgomery High School cluster to address enrollment at the fifth elementary school in the cluster, which is slated to open next year.
The Board considered five proposed options to redraw the zoning boundaries. Option B, which was ultimately approved by the Board, calls for the reassigning students in zones currently served by Beall Elementary, College Gardens Elementary, and Ritchie Park Elementary – all of which are operating at over 120 percent capacity – to the as-yet-unnamed school currently designated as “Richard Montgomery Elementary School Number Five.” Enrollment and zoning will be unchanged at Twinbrook Elementary, which is also over capacity, but to a smaller degree than the other three schools.
“Obviously, this school has been much needed and much desired by the community, and we're all very thankful to have the school,” said MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith at the beginning of the meeting.
“We found human error in the boundaries for students that were drawn up and were directed to find options that would address this.”
In opening statements, members of the Board noted that they had received a great deal of public input over the decision.
“A number of people made their cases very well,” said Board member Jill Ortman-Fouse (At Large) “If we could hire more staff, I'd bring you all on. The boundary issue is not an election based on popularity. The primary purpose of the new school is to address over-capacity.”
“We want to make certain that our teachers are able to provide their best,” said Board member Shebra L. Evans (District 4). “It comes down to people being able to have affordable housing. People purchase their houses where they do for a reason; I tried to consider all those things.”
Evans, Board President Michael A. Durso, Vice President Judith Docca, and Board members Jeanette Dixon (At Large) and Patricia O'Neill (District 3) voted in favor of Option B, providing the necessary majority for passage.
Dixon proposed an amendment that would have called for 75 Twinbrook Elementary students enrolled in the Free and Reduced-Price Meals (FARMS) program to be chosen by the school's staff to be “equitably re-assigned” to other schools in the cluster. Durso seconded the motion to allow for discussion, but the amendment received no support from other members of the Board.
“We shouldn't be sprinkling our kids around the county to lower the FARMS rate,” Evans said.
Several Twinbrook Elementary parents were concerned about the proposal, particularly Options C and D, both of which would have reassigned large numbers of Twinbrook students to other schools. Many wrote letters and testified at the Board's public hearing on the matter last week, arguing that the change would disrupt the school's sense of community.
“I'm very happy with the Board's decision for Option B,” said Melissa Downs, a Twinbrook parent who testified last week. “It keeps communities together while most equally utilizing all five schools. Now, more focus can be put on improving our already wonderful schools and giving our children the best education and opportunities possible.”
“I was pleased with the outcome because it struck a reasonable balance between satisfying the community's desire for maintaining neighborhood schools, while still achieving good utilization throughout the cluster,” said Vincent Russo, another Twinbrook parent. “Alternatives C and D were unpalatable because they displaced too many students from their home neighborhoods. Parents throughout the cluster felt that a neighborhood school should be a default option available to everyone. Alternatives C and D denied too many families that choice. I was also pleased with the attention paid to Twinbrook and schools like it which have high populations of FARMS and ESOL students and need additional staff and programing supports. I hope MCPS continues to assess these needs and provides the necessary resources to meet them.”