Wednesday, December 2, 2015

City of Gaithersburg: "this system for providing facilities is not working." @mcps @mocoboe

Testimony of the City of Gaithersburg Before the Montgomery County Board of Education on the Superintendent's Recommended FY 2016 Capital Budget and the FY 2017-2022 Capital Improvements Program

November 12, 2015

Good evening President O’Neil and members of the Board of Education. My name is Jud Ashman and I have the honor of being the Mayor of the City of Gaithersburg. I am here this evening to provide the City’s comments on the Interim Superintendent’s recommended Capital Improvements Plan. Unfortunately, we were not able to testify on November 9th as it conflicted with the Swearing in Ceremony for newly elected officials in Gaithersburg.
I’m joined tonight by several members of the City Council.

We appreciate the work that went into both the CIP and the supplemental recommendations. While the City would like to speak to all of the concerns related to clusters serving Gaithersburg students, in the interest of time I will touch on a few key issues.

Gaithersburg Cluster

It is projected that between FY 2017 and FY 2022, enrollment at each of the four elementary schools in the Gaithersburg cluster will exceed capacity by 172 seats or more. Since 2007, school enrollment in the Gaithersburg cluster has increased by nearly 600 students.

As part of the Interim Superintendent’s recommendations, we noted that an addition to alleviate the overutilization of Summit Hall was tabled due to the concerns associated with the timing and incorporation of the addition with the scheduled rev/ex of the school. The City strongly supports the community’s request to accelerate the construction of an addition or the rev/ex to alleviate overutilization as expeditiously as possible. We understand Summit Hall was identified by a recent County OLO study as a school whose FACT score may change, resulting in a change in its order in the queue. We look forward to the recommendations of the FACT Review Committee and hope that the project moves forward on a more appropriate timeline.

The Council and I are dismayed that no real solution was offered to address the overutilization of Gaithersburg Elementary School. More than 800 students currently walk to school and another solution is needed that does not involve busing children to another school outside the community. A permanent addition to the existing building or complete rev/ex would allow the community to remain whole and reduce the long-term operational costs of busing.

We support the Superintendent’s recommendation to convene a Tri-Cluster Roundtable Discussion to address the overutilization of elementary schools in the Gaithersburg Cluster and elsewhere. Not to get too far off topic, but we actually think it’s a good idea to include the Quince Orchard Cluster in this discussion. We certainly favor collaboration between the clusters, but Summit Hall needs relief today. Postponing the solution again to a long-standing problem is unacceptable. The students and parents have been patiently waiting for a solution to be proposed, and it is troubling that the timing for that relief is now uncertain.

Quince Orchard Cluster

First off, we are happy to see the Brown Station Elementary rev/ex move forward and we thank you for keeping that on track. We support the QO Cluster requests for needed projects at Quince Orchard High School and Fields Road Elementary.

As you know, Rachel Carson Elementary is overcapacity by more than 375 students this year and already has 11 relocatable classrooms to cope with the situation. The school community has repeatedly expressed that the status quo is unacceptable. The City appreciates that several solutions were considered to address the overutilization of Rachel Carson. However, we respectfully disagree with the recommendation that the addition to Dufief will be a viable long term solution; we believe that a new elementary school should be programmed in this CIP for the Quince Orchard Cluster. We came to this conclusion based on current and historic student generation projections for Carson – Carson’s enrollment is nearly 200 higher than the projection from six years ago – and because we believe there will be additional needs to relieve other QO Cluster schools. Our concern is that enrollment at Carson and in the Cluster will continue to increase at a faster pace than currently projected and exacerbate the problem even further.

Regardless of the solution the Board approves for Carson, the timeline must be revised to address this situation in the current CIP. Another six-plus years of this is unacceptable.
Northwest Cluster

We are very pleased that a classroom addition is scheduled for Diamond Elementary School. The school’s core facilities are inadequate to meet the needs of the current school population. We strongly support the Board’s recommended completion date of 2018 to address this crucial capacity project.

Overall for the City

We recognize the solutions to the overutilization of schools in Gaithersburg are complicated and costly. We come to you and to the County year after year to advocate for our school communities – and we’re always mindful that if we advocate for Project A, it will potentially take away from a worthy Project B.

While MCPS does a fabulous job educating our children, this system for providing facilities is not working. The proposed CIP recommendations are an unsustainable solution to a persistent problem. Building additions on to existing schools can sometimes be an adequate solution, but often it’s only a temporary relief – and ultimately more costly in the long run than programming new schools. We respectfully suggest that MCPS needs to adopt a better way to project long-term needs in order to adequately plan for them.

The time to demand adequate funding for our educational infrastructure – or look to fundamentally change how it is funded - is upon us.

We’re not just saying this, we are trying to proactively help. The City recently created a mechanism within our APFO that will, for the first time, allow us to collect funds from new developments to be earmarked for school facilities projects. While this won’t solve all of our problems, the Council and I feel it’s an important step in assisting your efforts to meet the needs of all students by helping to further contribute funding to our schools.

Gaithersburg continues to be an active partner in improving the situation for our students. While we aren’t involved in the administration of our schools, we have a long and impressive history of educational support and cooperation with MCPS and the Board of Education. We are often recognized for the comprehensive and creative partnership approaches we take in working with you to prepare our youth for their future success.

We join you in advocating for our most precious resource – our youth – and we have made additional school construction funding a priority in the City’s legislative agenda in Annapolis. We ask that every consideration be given to ensure our youth receive the highest quality education possible in facilities that reflect your commitment to excellence.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify before you tonight. Thank you for all you do. I would be pleased to answer any questions.


  1. MCPS has land for construction of a school, in Gaithersburg. A school as the Emory Grove site might not alleviate all of the Gaithersburg overcrowding issues; perhaps it would help. The property has been leased out for commercial use, but the lease says that MCPS can cancel the lease if MCPS needs the land to construct a school. The Mayor’s testimony documents that the need is needed now.
    At the same time that Gaithersburg is experiencing its overcrowding, MCPS is telling other communities to trust it to enter into contracts with a solar firm to erect solar farms on school properties. MCPS says not to worry; contracts will have cancellation clauses in case the land is needed for school construction. What good will cancellation clauses be if MCPS can’t be counted on to invoke them to provide adequate educational facilities for students, when needed?

  2. The Gaithersburg overcrowding can be solved without building a new school. 70% plus of the overcrowding in the cluster is confined to three schools, Summit Hall, Gaithersburg Elementary and Strawberry Knoll. Community members who participated in the capacity meetings and testified to the BOE asked for solutions at those schools: Summit Hall will double in size with its rev/ex (so don't postpone that); Gaithersburg Elementary can be built to accommodate its 800 walkers if MCPS will just try (see Ashburton ES), and Strawberry Knoll has plenty of room for the 8 classroom addition that was studied in 2010. So, the preference is to move forward with those projects, not to construct an entirely new school building and associated new operating costs.

    Finally, the Emory Grove site is not ideal for a school. Look at the upcounty holding facility site selection report. The site has narrow frontage on Emory Grove and then steep elevation changes dropping back to Mid-County Highway. Any school built on that site would have a number of challenges. So, honestly, renting that site out is a wise strategy for the school system. It should be used as an actual school site only as a last resort.

  3. Cancelation clause my @$$... There's a stipulation in the Sun Edison-MCPS contract which states that if MCPS takes the land back before the initial lease term is up (10 years), there will be a major multimillion dollar penalty, more than wiping out the potential $3M over 10 years that MCPS might make in this deal. If MCPS grants lease extensions (possibly blocks of 10 years each), the same hefty penalty would apply. In other words, once Sun Edison builds solar power plants on the three MCPS properties, kiss them goodbye for at least 10 to 20 (or more) years.

  4. Someone needs to oversee the statistical projections of growth and ensure that the MCPS does not select a statistic that meets their needs rather than the most accurate projected forecast. The politics that impact the building of new schools and additions to our schools is disgusting. This is not rocket science, but our county certainly makes it bs science and and poor use of tax payer dollars.


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