Local activist Andrew Ross, who has a child attending Rachel Carson Elementary School (RCES), has been advocating for years to address the school’s over-enrollment. He even started a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/rcesovercrowding, to encourage discussion.
Community meetings to discuss redistricting, which would help alleviate the overcrowding, have been held. However, Ross noted, “Parents do not want this.” He led a petition drive in 2015 calling for a new school and is now serving as Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) Quince Orchard Cluster coordinator.
A recent Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) study shows the enrollment for the upcoming school year dropping slightly from 1031 to 982 students for RCES, which has a capacity of 691 students. The study showed for the next six years that RCES will sustain an average over-enrollment of 300 students.
Eleven portables are currently in use at RCES to address overcrowding. The school has been over-capacity by 200 to 400 students for 10 years, but thanks to the dedication of its administrators, teachers, parents and students, RCES is known for its successful programs and state and national Blue Ribbon School status.
The MCPS solution for RCES overcrowding—a 300-seat addition to DuFief Elementary School—was delayed this spring. The Montgomery County Council voted to defer funding of the DuFief project on April 17. The project has been delayed for one year with completion anticipated in September 2022.
RCES is not the only elementary school in Gaithersburg at or over capacity. In April, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a new elementary school for Kelley Park, owned by the City of Gaithersburg. Construction is anticipated to be completed in fall 2022.
Addressing funding for and determining the needs for school construction has long been problematic across the state. Local jurisdictions have developed adequate public facilities ordinances (APFOs) for new development, levied impact fees and/or implemented a recordation tax.
Also, older communities not impacted by APFO review have experienced demographic changes that are resulting in younger families with children, according to Ross.
Two recent state studies address education in Maryland.
After two years of work, The 21st Century School Facilities Commission, appointed by Senate President Thomas “Mike” Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch, chaired by Martin G. Knott Jr., concluded in January of this year with five major recommendations: local school systems retain primary responsibility for the design, construction and maintenance of public school facilities; the state oversees construction of public school facilities but should accommodate local priorities; the state must focus resources on critical areas, especially low-wealth jurisdictions; state and local governments should pursue innovative strategies for the creation of new schools; and the new school construction process must be transparent.
The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was appointed by Governor Larry Hogan and the state legislature in 2016 and chaired by William E. “Brit” Kirwan. A preliminary report issued in September 2017 identified five areas as critical to improving education in the state, including all-day preschool for all 4-year-old and low-income 3-year-old children, increased funding for education of children who live in poverty, more robust teaching certification standards and compensation, focus on making students college- or career-ready by 10th grade, and strengthening governance and accountability of education policy.
A consultant for the commission recommended an increase of $2.9 billion to the $12 billion already in the public school funding formula. A change to how state funding for school construction and repair is approved also took place earlier this year when the state legislature overwhelmingly approved the creation of a new commission. This commission, made up of appointees from the governor, Senate president and House speaker, will now have approval authority previously held by the state Board of Public Works (BPW).
Ross said, “I admit it is a complicated problem for local, county and state officials to fix.” As a local parent and Quince Orchard Cluster representative, Ross believes that it is critically important to fix the overcrowding problem at our local schools. “Let’s do something!” he said. “I’m not going away. Let’s solve this problem.”
George Wenschhof writes from Frederick and is publisher of FrederickPolitics.com.