Council wants budget oversight

April 6, 2006, midnight | By Justin Vlasits | 14 years, 9 months ago

Inspector general's report raises concern over Board

County Council members are calling for more oversight of the MCPS budget in response to controversy over the relocation of Seven Locks Elementary School.

Since Seven Locks and Potomac Elementary Schools are both significantly over capacity and have populations projected to increase over the next five years, County Council and Board of Education (BOE) members have been assessing plans for either an addition to or relocation of Seven Locks Elementary School. However, Montgomery County Inspector General Thomas Dagley's audit of MCPS's proposal to build a new school at 9655 Kendale Road in the Churchill cluster alleged that the decision was based on misinformation and did not fully explore alternatives.

According to the report, the school system misrepresented the cost of relocation and the community's support of the project because it alleged that MCPS was not in compliance with state and county laws when procuring construction services and that there were other alternatives than those proposed. According to County Council President George Leventhal (D-At Large), the nearby Potomac Elementary School PTA has since rejected relocation because it was not initially presented with other options.

Patrick Lacefield, Council legislative information coordinator, believes that the report "brought to light some problems with the school board's presentation of the information." He explained the BOE and the Council created a joint task force to look into other possibilities before the budget vote in May.

Councilman Mike Subin (D-At Large) said he believes that Dagley's reports are "worthless" and "hogwash" because the inspector general took into account neither the County's modernization schedule nor the prior public support of the Kendale site.

Most of the Council, however, opposed the Kendale option after Dagley's report. According to Lacefield, only Subin and one other Councilmember still favor the Kendale relocation.

Over the past six years, the BOE and the County Council have been debating how to address overcrowding in Potomac Elementary School. In May 2004, the Education Committee of the County Council recommended that, instead of building an addition to the school, it would be more cost-effective to modernize and add to Seven Locks Elementary School. The Council's reasoning included a desire to maintain its modernization schedule, a plan to first modernize schools with more need, and to reconcile safety concerns about relocating Seven Locks to a busy intersection.

Most members of the BOE still agree with the Kendale relocation. They issued a statement on March 2 that stated, "The Seven Locks replacement facility at Kendale best meets the needs of students. It provides the students with a modern elementary school facility and does not further delay the project into the next decade."

BOE member Valerie Ervin (District 4) believes that the Board was misinformed about alternatives to the Kendale relocation because its only information prior to the inspector general's report came from MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast. "The Board does not have an independent body to oversee the Superintendent's information," Ervin said.

In response to the inspector general, Weast issued a detailed report to the Board with contributions from Subin, BOE Vice President Sharon Cox (At Large), former BOE and Council presidents and the MCPS chief operating officer challenging Dagley's contentions. The reply asserted, "The Kendale site is the best option to meet the needs of the students in the Potomac and Seven Locks community because it will alleviate overcrowding at Potomac Elementary; provide a new, modern facility for the students; prevent the students from being moved to a holding school; and is about $2 million cheaper than modernizing the existing Seven Locks Elementary School."

Justin Vlasits. Justin Vlasits is a CAP senior who enjoys It's Academic, baseball, guitar and frisbee in addition to watching weird movies and contemplating the meaning of life. Justin is also a revolutionary member of SGR and will someday overthrow oppressive capitalism all over the world. More »

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