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MCPS Districtwide Boundary Analysis Sign-On Letter
February XXX, 2020
Ms. Shebra Evans,
President, The Montgomery County Board of Education
Dr. Jack Smith, Superintendent, Montgomery County Public Schools
850 Hungerford Drive
Rockville, Maryland, 20850
Dear Ms. Evans and Dr. Smith:
As community members, students, and parents around Montgomery County, we write to express our strong support for the MCPS Districtwide Boundary Analysis. We wish to thank you for holding an open process with multiple public meetings and also express our hope that this will be the first step in sparking honest discussions that result in meaningful and long-overdue changes.
As you know, the last countywide boundary change happened in the 1980s, when MCPS closed more than 60 schools as enrollment dropped to about 90,000 and the county population was about 600,000. Today, the population is 1.2 million and growing. School enrollment has surged to about 166,000, while boundaries remain largely unchanged.
A school system with a growing population and serious crowding issues should not simultaneously have schools operating at well below capacity. But in recent years, boundaries have only been changed when new schools opened. As a result, some schools are at more than 150 percent of capacity with up to 14 portable classrooms at a single school, even when there is space at nearby schools.
This status quo is unacceptable. It results in many families being farther away from their children’s schools than they should be: Among non-magnet students, 37% of elementary students, 45% of middle school students and 38% of high school students do not attend the closest school, according to MCPS data.
A systematic boundary assessment is fiscally responsible. We simply do not have the wherewithal to avoid this study, as the impact of avoiding a system-wide boundary assessment for more than 30 years has been a poor use of taxpayer dollars. MCPS houses 10,000 students in more than 400 portables, at a cost of $5 million per year. At the same time, MCPS has a $790 million backlog of systemwide repair and maintenance needs. Other school districts, such as neighboring Howard County, Fairfax County, and Baltimore County have performed boundary analyses as a matter of fiscal responsibility.
In addition to being good stewards of taxpayer money, MCPS also has the responsibility to address the racial and socioeconomic disparities in our system. Elected officials and school administrators must strive to equalize racial and economic disparities in our schools, consistent with the County’s new racial equity approach to address widespread inequities. We believe MCPS should study reasonable ways to do so without unreasonably lengthening bus commutes for students, and find opportunities to shorten bus commutes when possible. Concentrated school poverty hurts students and can undermine students of color specifically. As noted in the recent Montgomery County Office of Legislative Oversight report, African-American and Hispanic students are concentrated in the highest-poverty schools at MCPS.
Among MCPS students, there has been widespread concern about growing segregation and inequities from both low and higher poverty schools students. Diverse schools and classrooms benefit all kids, not just those students of color or impacted by poverty. As MoCo Students for Change has written: “Montgomery County Public Schools are becoming increasingly segregated by socio-economic class. De-facto segregation is the new norm in our county. The stunning disparities of demographics in our schools are reminiscent of what America's schools looked liked in the 1960's, during the peak of racial segregation in our country.”
However, we agree with your emphasis that demographics are only one of several factors that MCPS is considering in this process. Creating schools that are as diverse as possible, close to homes, and not overcrowded should not be mutually exclusive goals.
We think it would be worthwhile to explore a regular periodic process of boundary review and adjustment. A process of periodic boundary changes, possibly in the hands of an independent commission, would allow iterative adjustments to attendance boundaries so the need for change does not build up for decades and require more difficult adjustments.
Fostering change is often difficult, particularly when it involves our children. Fear of change is natural. But as elected and appointed officials, your job is to not be swayed by the loudest, the angriest or the most persistent voices. Instead, you must ensure that the interests of all students, and generations of students to come, is the first priority.
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