Councilmember Marilyn Praisner had been involved in the creation of the policy in 1986 when she was on the MCPS Board of Education. She was concerned enough about the 2005 changes to write to the Board of Education. The changes made to Policy FAA in 2005 are now going to impact the families that are about to lose a neighborhood school in 2010.
School board plans to address criticism
A proposed change to the school system's long-range facilities
planning policy could stifle the public's voice in the planning
process, county PTAs and civic leaders charged this week.
But school officials said they are working to address community
Cluster coordinators from the county council of PTAs and civic
leaders are expected to attend a meeting Thursday to discuss the
Sharon W. Cox (At large) of Germantown, who heads the board's policy
committee, said the committee would offer a new version of the
policy change that was proposed earlier this year.
The policy guides the planning process for school facilities, taking
into account enrollment trends and academic needs.
The new version will identify when the board will seek community
involvement, such as in drawing boundaries, closing schools and the
school system's six-year construction plan, Cox said. It also will
identify groups that could provide input, including PTAs, homeowners
associations and civic groups. That level of specificity was lacking
in the original revision.
PTA and Civic Federation members said they are concerned that the
earlier changes would limit parents' and taxpayers' opportunity to
weigh in on school planning issues.
The changes being considered by the board would change the policy
into a regulation.
Regulations do not require the same public input as policies, so
they can be amended to react quickly to specific needs, said George
Margolies, the board's staff director.
But it is precisely that lack of public comment that worries some
PTA and civic leaders.
It would leave no guarantee that community members could be
consulted, said Mark R. Adelman, chairman of the Civic Federation's
"When you put stuff on the regulatory side, you put it in a place
where the superintendent decides," he said. "We don't elect the
"There's a fear that there would be less accountability"
and "shortcut" planning decisions, said Cindy Kerr, president of the
county council of PTAs. "Quick decisions are what lead to the most
major headaches in the community."
County Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton was
a school board member when the current policy was adopted in 1986
after a series of meetings with the community and the council of
"It was a real concerted effort on the part of the board to place a
great deal of clarity and transparency into the facility planning
process," she said.
Praisner said the "overarching implications" of the policy -- which
can affect issues from land use to budgets -- prompted her to write
a letter to the board.
"I don't think the board appreciates the history of the policy," she
The policy was written when the county was closing schools and
community input was just as important as it is now, as the county
builds new schools and reopens some of the very same schools it
closed in the 1970s and 1980s, Praisner said.
The council of PTAs has called on the board to establish an advisory
committee to consider any changes to the planning policy and asked
that the board not make any changes before autumn.
The board's policy committee set out to revise the planning process
to address changes in the way the state calculates school capacity
and the creation of consortium middle and high schools, which
require the board to consider boundaries and capacity in order to
balance enrollment, Cox said.
Thursday's meeting will give people a chance to see how the board
uses their input, she said. "If you are not involved in the process,
it is not easy to see how your input is utilized."
Community members wonder if their input is heeded at all, Adelman
"Right now, there's not a great deal of trust in the civic community
and the PTA that the Board of Education will listen to comments of
the community," he said.
Valerie Ervin (Dist. 4) of Silver Spring acknowledged the mistrust.
"From what I can see, as one of the new board members, is that the
board is struggling very hard to change that perception," said
Ervin, a member of the policy committee.
It can do that by listening to the public on the proposed policy,
"I don't see this as a problem," she said. "I think it's an