Montgomery County Public Schools apparently relented last week to mounting pressure to abandon plans for a new elementary school on Kendale Road.
In a joint statement issued March 10, County Council President George Leventhal, Council Education Committee Chair Michael Subin, School Board President Charles Haughey, and MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast said the Council and School Board would “work together on a new approach to alleviating overcrowding in the elementary schools in the Churchill Cluster.”
MCPS formulated the Kendale Road plan in early 2004 as a solution to overcrowding at Potomac Elementary School. The new school on Kendale would replace nearby Seven Locks Elementary School, which had previously been slated for an addition and modernization.
Though the statement does not specifically spell out the end of Kendale, it came three days after a public hearing at which a supplemental funding request needed to build the school appeared doomed.
According to the statement, a joint task force of Council and MCPS staff will develop a new Capital Improvements Plan amendment to present to the Education Committee March 23, another sign of a likely shift from building on Kendale.
Education committee member Howard Denis (R-1) has already proposed one such amendment, shifting money from Kendale to a plan to build a new school on the current Seven Locks site.
“It appears to me that Kendale is behind us now. We look to the future. My CIP amendment is still on the table,” Denis said. “With Kendale off the table we have to focus on how best to rebuild on-site, which is clearly the only viable option that’s left.”
At a Board of Education meeting March 14, Haughey said that the statement’s call to “explore all options” precludes nothing.
MCPS stood by the Kendale plan even after a February report by the Montgomery County Office of Inspector General found that the school system had misrepresented cost data and community sentiment in proposing the new school and that two less-costly options had been artificially ruled out.
The report sparked renewed opposition to building on Kendale, especially from parents and neighbors of Seven Locks Elementary, who had long advocated for preserving the existing school.
Following a March 6 meeting, the Potomac Elementary PTA, which had supported building on Kendale because it was the most immediate solution to Potomac’s overcrowding, swung its support to building a new Seven Locks Elementary on the existing Seven Locks site.
The report also put the Council, in the midst of a critical budget season, at a crossroads.
During March, it would have to consider the school system’s $3.3 million supplemental request for Kendale and, later, Denis’ CIP amendment. Both proposals would require a six-vote “supermajority” of the nine-member council.
“If there is strong community support for the Kendale site, I would be very interested to hear that,” Leventhal said in a committee meeting March 2.
“We’ll certainly have two opportunities in the month of March to see if community witnesses do come forward in support of the Kendale site.”
But at the March 7 public hearing on the $3.3 million appropriation, nearly 30 community members testified and none supported granting the money. Though the Council did not vote, the appropriation appeared to have between one and three likely supporters.
Leventhal said in an interview that he was particularly influenced by testimony from the Potomac Elementary community, since the school system had based many of its arguments on Potomac’s endorsement of Kendale.
The task force will reportedly include staff members from Denis, Leventhal and Subin’s offices, and MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers, construction chief Richard Hawes and facilities consultant Joe Lavorgna.
At the March 14, Board of Education meeting, several parents from Bells Mill Elementary School pleaded with the Board to speed up construction plans for that school, where three portable classrooms were closed after students became sick due to mold contamination. The closures compounded problems inside a school that is already 50 percent over-capacity.
The task force will consider capacity problems around the Churchill cluster, meaning that a new solution could include more immediate relief for Bells Mill or on-site improvements at Potomac Elementary, Board and Council members said.