Downtown Silver Spring construction looms, county starts building Clarksburg High School
The Board of Education passed a six-year school construction plan Nov. 17 that aims to reduce overcrowding in MCPS.
The plan provides for the addition of one new high school in Clarksburg and six new elementary schools, according to MCPS's Capital Improvements Plan. Other improvements include additions, renovations and the reopening of several schools. The plan allocates $1.172 billion for construction and renovation over a six-year period.
Parents and community leaders raised concerns over how the plan will stop overcrowding in the Downcounty Consortium (DCC) and over the boundary change process involving Clarksburg High School.
Developments in the DCC
The plan states that the expansion of Northwood to include grades 11 and 12 will relieve overcrowding at Blair, Einstein, Kennedy and Wheaton. Blair has 3,081 students enrolled for the 2005-2006 school year, 251 students over capacity. By 2008, MCPS predicts that Blair will be under-enrolled by 114 students.
But Blair Cluster Representative Ray Scannell is worried that MCPS may have overlooked 2,500 to 3,000 new housing units being built in downtown Silver Spring. "There's almost 3,000 housing units going into the Blair base area. Do the math — if just half have one kid, that's 1,500 kids. If only one-third, that's almost 1,000," said Scannell.
Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning for MCPS, explained that MCPS works closely with the Department of Park and Planning. "[MCPS gets] every preliminary plan that's filed in the county. We are in the loop all the way through the process," he said.
County developers pay a school impact tax, according to Crispell. The fee depends on the type of housing unit being built, ranging from $1,693 for a high-rise to $8,464 for a new house. The tax was created by the County Council to help fund the capital improvements.
Scannell is concerned that MCPS assumes housing patterns in downtown Silver Spring will mirror those of wealthier parts of the county, like Bethesda, where condominiums and townhouses are mainly inhabited by young professionals and affluent, elderly residents. "To automatically assume that new housing will follow richer areas, it's like believing in fantasies. [Silver Spring] has different occupancy patterns than other parts of the county," he said.
Crispell denied Scannell's claims. "By 2008, Blair will be within capacity," he said. "We know there are lots of new housing units coming into downtown Silver Spring. A lot of them are quite upscale — these seem to be empty nesters."
The plan is flexible in case housing patterns in Silver Spring change. "We don't just stop there and say it's always going to be that way. We will continue to monitor the new developments," he said.
A key part of MCPS's new building plans is the construction of Clarksburg High School, which comes in response to increased housing developments in the area and overcrowding at Seneca Valley, Damascus and Watkins Mill.
Clarksburg High School is scheduled to open in August 2006. The school will hold up to 1,600 students and will be able to accommodate a community of 15,000 housing units. It will have the biggest impact on Damascus, which is currently 21 percent over capacity, according to the Capital Improvements Plan.
When MCPS changes school boundaries, citizen advisory committees are developed to provide input to the Board of Education. The boundary change involving Clarksburg, Damascus, Seneca Valley and Watkins Mill is the largest in the county's history, said Leslie Cuneo, a Damascus cluster coordinator who served on the committee.
Boundary decisions are based on geographic location, socioeconomic, racial and ethnic factors and neighborhood issues, said senior Sebastian Johnson, the student member of the Board of Education. Under Superintendent Jerry Weast's proposal, a neighborhood in the Clarksburg area would be divided to increase the diversity of Clarksburg High School.
During community hearings, several parents voiced concern over the diversity of the schools their children would attend. "Some parents said they didn't want their kids to go to Seneca Valley because it has more minority students," said Johnson. "Seneca Valley has a bit of a bad reputation for academics, and the building is older. Clarksburg is new and has more opportunities."
Johnson feels that racial tension is present in the Clarksburg and Damascus communities. "In that part of the county, there is still racism that exists, and we're seeing that," he said. Other parents from Damascus testified at the hearings saying they did not want diversity, according to Board of Education member Valerie Ervin.
The main concerns of Damascus parents were to ensure that MCPS allocated funds in the capital improvement budget to Damascus-area schools, said Cuneo. "We just want our little tiny piece of the pie," she said, noting that diversity was also a concern among parents. "There are definitely parents in the Damascus area who do not want diversity."
The discussion over Blair's boundary changes in the 1990s also had racial undertones, said Scannell. "It's politically difficult to change boundaries," he said, stating that this has caused division within the county. "We have segregation in this county by class, and class in Maryland is also linked to race."
The Board took all community members' concerns into account, but no changes were made to the Capital Improvements Plan, said Johnson. Against the wishes of some Damascus parents, the Board voted unanimously to approve Weast's proposal. The County Council will vote on the six-year plan in January.
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