Rock Creek Hills appeals Montgomery County school board's selection of Kensington park for middle school
Middle school site selection was arbitrary'
A group of Kensington residents accuse the Montgomery County school board of being reckless, imprudent and abusive of its power in its selection of a Kensington park as the preferred site for a middle school.
The Rock Creek Hills Citizens' Association is appealing to the Maryland State Board of Education the decision by the Montgomery County Board of Education to conduct a feasibility study at Rock Creek Hills Park for a new middle school for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area. The association argues in its appeal that the county school board based its decision on a flawed site selection study, failed to provide residents adequate time to respond to the proposal and did not address potentially major impediments at the site.
"We love that park," said David Kaplan, a Rock Creek Hills resident who spoke on behalf of the association. "It was described as vacant land by the board we see it as vibrant land."
The state board of education reviews appeals and can send decisions back to county level, overturn a county decision or let the decision stand. If the state board were to uphold the county's decision, the citizens' association could take their appeal to court.
Rock Creek Hills Park was selected from 10 options for further study as a site for a middle school in April, a change from the original proposal for further study at Rosemary Hills/Lyttonsville Park in Silver Spring. A new middle school is needed to relieve overcrowding at Bethesda-Chevy Chase's middle school and to remove sixth grade from Chevy Chase and North Chevy Chase elementary schools.
Residents near the Kensington park said they heard about the proposal only hours before the board approved it, but have since strongly voiced their opposition, most recently at the school board's meeting May 23. Residents at that meeting pleaded with the board to halt the process and review other options; the board instead approved an architect for a $67,500 feasibility study.
Board member Patricia B. O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda defended the board's action and said the park had been listed as the second option in the original site selection committee report.
"I'm not surprised I think that almost any neighborhood we would choose to put a school in would appeal," O'Neill said. "It's a pretty typical neighborhood response."
Rock Creek Hills residents agree that the area needs a new middle school, but do not think Rock Creek Hills Park will provide enough space for a top-notch school, Kaplan said.
In the association's appeal, the group asks the state board of education to reverse the county school board's decision on the basis that the decision meets criteria for an appeal, as outlined in the Code of Maryland Regulations: first, that a reasoning mind would not have reached the same conclusion as did the board and, second, that the board abused its power of discretion, which gives the board authority to determine, with county council support, the location of a new school. The appeal says the process was flawed because the committee did not include adequate representation from that area, the report did not accurately represent the site and the surrounding community did not have a "realistic opportunity to comment."
"The Local Board's action was ill informed and arbitrary given the lack of notice and comment," the appeal reads.
The appeal also accuses the board of having insufficient information for its decision the school report does not include analysis of cost, traffic and trees.
That type of analysis will come with the feasibility study, which holds its first community meeting June 8. Dennis Cross, the project manager, did not return calls for comment Tuesday, but division of long range planning director Bruce Crispell previously said the feasibility study process includes at least six public meetings at which the architect, school officials and the community evaluate what potential problems exist, what features are desirable and the cost of the project.
Montgomery County Public Schools will hold six meetings and a community presentation as part of a feasibility study for a new middle school at Rock Creek Hills Park, in Kensington.
The study is intended to determine spatial relationships within the school, pedestrian and traffic flow, and the school's integration into the community, according to a memo sent to residents from project manager Dennis Cross.
Unless otherwise noted, meetings are held at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School choral room, 4301 East West Highway, Bethesda.
Sessions are as follows:
7 p.m. June 8; 2 p.m. June 22; 7 p.m. July 13; 2 p.m. July 28; 7 p.m. Aug. 10; 2 p.m. Aug 17.
The 7 p.m. Sept. 8 community presentation is at Westland Middle School, 5511 Massachusetts Ave., Bethesda.
For details, contact project manager Dennis Cross at 240-876-4586 or firstname.lastname@example.org.