Support Alternative B, Oppose Alternatives C, D, E
Date: November 22, 2017
To: Members of Board of Education, Montgomery County Public Schools; Jack R Smith, Superintendent of Schools
From: Parents of children in Richard Montgomery cluster of elementary schools
Subject: Petition to support Alternative B, oppose Alternatives C, D, and E, and plea for explanations from Dr. Smith and the Board of Education for last-minute changes to the boundary selection process
As concerned parents involved in the Richard Montgomery cluster, we make the following pleas to the Superintendent of Schools and the Board of Education. Further explanation of each can be found in the memo below.
- We appeal to Dr. Smith and the Board of Education to support Alternative B from the Updated Alternatives released November 14, 2017 (link to Updated Alternatives), which closely resembles and improves upon the Original Recommendation, considers all criteria, and was made following a fair and transparent process. We oppose Alternatives C, D, and E.
- We appeal to Dr. Smith to further explain in writing to the parents how the cost savings contributed to a reversal in his analysis, when the same point was cited in both recommendations.
- We appeal to the Board of Education to provide a more thorough written explanation to the parents to explain the rationale for the November 2 board resolution which requested Dr. Smith to revisit the Original Recommendation.
On October 23, 2017, Jack R Smith, the Superintendent of Schools, released a memo recommending updated boundaries (the “Original Recommendation”, link to Original Recommendation) for the Richard Montgomery cluster of elementary schools. He made the Original Recommendation after careful consideration of a variety of alternatives, which were developed following a thorough and transparent process that started with a community meeting on February 28, 2017.
In a memo dated November 14, 2017, Dr. Smith reversed his recommendation and released new boundary alternatives (the “Updated Recommendations”, link to Updated Recommendations ), citing “unusual circumstances” leading to the reversal. The circumstances noted in the memo included (i) cost-savings in the construction of the new elementary school RMES5, which could increase the capacity of RMES5 (ii) an error in the calculation used to determine the proportion of Free and Reduced Price Meal System (“FARMS”) students attending each school, and (iii) a board resolution submitted on November 2, 2017 after Dr. Smith’s Original Recommendation which required Dr. Smith to review his recommendation and “submit more equitable recommendations for FARMS distributions of students to the Board of Education”.
In the November 14 memo, Dr. Smith also affirmed his commitment to maintain the November 27, 2017 deadline for the Board of Education to make its decision on the updated boundaries.
We have multiple concerns with Dr. Smith’s Updated Recommendations and with the Board of Education’s November 2, 2017 resolution. First, one of the “unusual circumstances” cited as a trigger for the Updated Recommendations was favorable construction costs, allowing RMES5 to potentially increase capacity from 602 to 740. However, he also cited this point in his Original Recommendation. We appeal to Dr. Smith to further explain in writing to the parents how this circumstance contributed to a reversal in his analysis when this same point was cited in both recommendations.
Second, prior to October 23 the Board of Education and Dr. Smith utilized pre-established and reasonable criteria to evaluate the final boundary decision. These criteria included (i) “Facility Utilization”, (ii) “Demographic Characteristics of Student Population”, (iii) “Geographic Proximity of Communities to Schools”, and (iv) “Stability of School Assignments over Time.” The Original Recommendation was made after a process that lasted 8 months and considered all criteria. According to Dr. Smith, his Original Recommendation favorably impacted two of these four factors (addresses overutilization and promotes walking access), and was consistent with the other two factors (promoting a diverse student body and supporting stability of school assignments).
In a sudden change, Dr. Smith’s November 14 memo implied the demographic characteristics and FARMS allocation should be considered more important than the other criteria at the request of the Board of Education.
As parents we recognize and appreciate the value of demographic diversity. However, we also believe the Board of Education should not arbitrarily increase the importance of one criteria over other criteria, particularly not in the final 25 days of a 9-month process. Furthermore, the Board of Education should recognize we as parents are not entirely dependent on the school system to instill positive social and democratic values in our children. We want our school system to be accessible and close to home, to enhance our community, and to promote a positive and well-rounded learning environment. We do not want our school system to be politicized government bodies. We appeal to the Board of Education to provide a more thorough written explanation to the parents to explain the rationale and timing for the November 2 board resolution which requested Dr. Smith to revisit the Original Recommendation.
We recognize this is a difficult decision and that not every constituent will be completely satisfied with the final decision. Given the last-minute changes in the process, we are deeply concerned the Board of Education will make a decision based on incomplete analysis of alternatives that do not evaluate all criteria evenly and that do not have buy-in from the community.
Rather than passing last-minute resolutions to revise the evaluation criteria with limited community involvement, Dr. Smith and the Board of Education should revert to the original well-defined and thorough process started at the beginning of the year. We cannot accept a recommendation that does not involve parents and that arbitrarily considers one criteria more important than other criteria. Therefore, we appeal to Mr. Smith and the Board of Education to support Alternative B from the Updated Alternatives released November 14, 2017, which closely resembles the Original Recommendation, considers all criteria, and was made following a fair and transparent process. We oppose Alternatives C, D, and E..
We thank you for your time and effort put into running this process and making this decision, and for your dedication to provide best-in-class education for our children.
Parents of Richard Montgomery Cluster of elementary schools