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Alleviate Severe Overcrowding at Rachel Carson Elementary School

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Dear MCPS Board of Education and Gaithersburg Mayor and Council,


As you may know, Rachel Carson Elementary School is facing an ongoing and increasingly dire capacity issue. We had 1,025 students enroll at the school this year, compared to the stated capacity of approximately 650 students. While test scores remain strong and the quality of education is high, the students’ quality of life is suffering and we parents are very concerned. Here are a few examples:


· The 11 portables, most in MCPS, have taken over a significant portion of the playground at a time when more students are at recess. Our volunteers report that injuries happen frequently because of lack of space


· The 3rd graders are eating lunch at 10:45am, far too early. (http://www.wnyc.org/story/sound-how-school-lunch-times-affect-your-children/)


· Because of traffic flow in/out of the lunchroom, kids often have to eat lunch in less than 15 minutes. In a recent survey to RCES families, 89% of respondents said that their kids report not having enough time to eat lunch.


· Multiple classes go to PE together, so over 50 first graders are in the small gym at one time.


In the past, RCES families have opposed having a discussion about overcapacity because we support a walkable community and close knit nature of Kentlands/Lakelands envisioned by the planners and embraced by its residents. Instead, we as parents have chosen to deal with crowding as MCPS had predicted that numbers would fall over time. However, those calculations were wrong, and now the 2019-2020 MCPS projection shows that RCES will still be the most overcrowded school. School projections for a new urbanist development, like Kentlands/Lakelands, are challenging but the enrollment trends for this community have proven that the traditional aging out of the community does not apply. It is not fair to our children to ask them to be in a perpetual state of overcrowding. Now is the time to have the conversation about how to remedy the situation over time. The lessons learned from Kentlands/Lakelands are important as similar communities are being built in White Flint, Rockville, Crown which will challenge projections moving forward.


In the past, RCES overcrowding could be solved by redrawing boundaries. However, the current situation is so dire with over 350 additional kids at RCES there are not enough open seats at adjacent schools to solve the problem. All elementary schools in the QO cluster are at or above capacity and the only nearby schools with space (Travilah, Dufief, and Darnestown) total approximately 250 open seats. The boundaries cannot be shifted to solve the current problem. Additional planned development for Kentlands Downtown, a critical area of housing need for the county, is in moratorium until the capacity issue is addressed. The Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance of the City of Gaithersburg will not allow the additional families that would come with new development until a school facility is placed in the capital improvement plan. As a result, the current enrollment projections don’t account for the additional growth the Kentlands/Lakelands could experience if the school capacity issue did not exist and growth through new development could move forward.


We respectfully request that MCPS and the City of Gaithersburg begin exploring the following scenarios:


Short Term

1) Improve the safety and security of the portables and playground. There are no cameras or significant barriers to prevent bad guys from causing problems in the portable area or entering the back doors


2) Expand the playground area to include the field.


3) Require all students to eat lunch between the hours of 11:00-1:30


4) Work with developers to understand the potential additional capacity that would be required if their developments moved forward within the capital improvement timeframes


Long Term

1) Prioritize capital improvement funds in the next Capital Improvement Plan 5 year update for a major renovation to the building and grounds of the current RCES campus or for the design and build of a new school in Lakelands on City/County land near or on the land surrounding the County public safety campus. We are committed to a solution that preserves the walkable nature of our community


2) Pass regulations or laws creating a minimum “quality of life” standard including acceptable playspaces, lunch times, and security.


We understand that school overcrowding is an issue countywide and support the county’s efforts to secure additional state funding for school construction. Our community offers a unique opportunity to understand how to plan and fund adequate school facilities for what will be an increasing development trend of higher density, walkable neighborhoods in the future. We stand ready to work with the County, City and State to help address this important issue not only for own children but future classes that will come behind our own.


Sincerely,

The Undersigned Rachel Carson Elementary School Parents and Interested Community Supporters

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