Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast shot back this week at an Office of Inspector General Report that said MCPS misled the public and elected officials about school construction plans in Potomac.
The report’s findings are “not supported by the public record or accounts of the events by key members of the [County] Council and Board [of Education] who were involved at the time,” Weast wrote in a Feb. 21 memo to the Board of Education.
He said that the report fails to consider the “full history and context” of MCPS’ plans to relieve overcrowding at Potomac Elementary School. The school system at first proposed to do that by renovating Seven Locks Elementary School, but in 2004 switched to a plan to build a new school on nearby Kendale Road.
The inspector general’s report, released Feb. 15, said that MCPS delivered incomplete and faulty cost data regarding the modernization and addition at Seven Locks. The report also asserts that MCPS presented the Board and Council with only two construction options in May, 2004, “even though at least two other apparently less costly options existed.”
FOLLOWING THE release of the report last week, MCPS spokesman Brian Edwards said that the inspector general “had an agenda.”
“He was presented with information and he chose to ignore it,” Edwards said. “There’s nothing untoward here. There’s nothing remotely wrong.”
Weast’s response individually addresses each of the report’s four findings and supplies as evidence signed affidavits by three MCPS staff members and signed statements by to Board members and two councilmembers.
Council Education Committee Chairman Michael Subin called the Inspector General’s report “totally useless” in his written statement. He said that swift relief for overcrowding — not money — was the driving factor in Council decisions and that building on Kendale was cheaper and quicker than any of the Seven Locks options.
"THERE'S GOT TO be some correction, not attacking the messenger,” said Rosanne Hurwitz, a Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations Area Vice President, who is referred to in the inspector general’s report and the affidavits attached to Weast’s memo.
The inspector general’s report—which does not identify Hurwitz by name—found that MCPS misrepresented Hurwitz’s opinions about the construction options.
The affidavits are from former MCPS Director of Planning and Capital Programming Joseph Lavorgna, Division of Long Range Planning Director Bruce Crispell, and Real Estate Team Leader Janice Turpin. They say that Hurwitz originally proposed the Kendale option at a Jan. 20, 2004 meeting in Rockville, and that Hurwitz favored it for relieving overcrowding at Potomac Elementary.
Turpin’s affidavit says she was invited to the meeting and describes what took place there but does not specifically say that she attended. She later refers to “those in attendance at the meeting.” Lavorgna’s affidavit includes Turpin on the list of those in attendance, but Hurwitz said in an interview Feb. 21 that she had “never been in a room” with Turpin.
“I don’t care who was at that meeting. Decisions on how to build schools are not made in private,” said Janis Sartucci, Churchill cluster co-coordinator for MCCPTA. “I don’t care if George Bush was at the meeting. That’s not where we make decisions. We have a policy where we make decisions in the open with community involvement. … The bottom line is there is no [public] site selection There was no architect selection. There was never a comparison of Potomac Elementary, Seven Locks, and Kendale.”
DEL. JEAN CRYOR (R-15), who attended community meetings on the Seven Locks plans in late 2004 said that she felt “gravely disappointed” by the report’s findings and that MCPS should move quickly to address community members' concerns.
“If anyone wants my advice it’s have a meeting right away with the people in that area. That’s the first thing that should happen,” Cryor said. “Do it in the community, so people can hear what happened and why it happened. That’s the first thing that you do to try to repair this lack of trust that is developing.”
“They never made it clear what they were doing. … I do think that was the root of it all was this desire to have denser housing,” she added. “‘We want this ground because we want this housing in Potomac. To do that we’re willing to build another school over here. What do you think of that?’ That’s what should have been on the table from the beginning.”
Weast’s memo concluded that his main interest is in proceeding with plans to build on Kendale.
“Nothing has changed in the rationale for constructing this facility,” he wrote. “It continues to be the best decision for the children of this community.”