One successful sale

Jan. 9, 2011, 1:28 p.m. | By Marjorie Fuchs | 10 years, 9 months ago

MCPS rises above unnecessary politics with sale of school

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is known as one of the nation's best. Education Week rated the Maryland public school system the best in the country in 2009. According to these and other statistics and acclamations, we are living in the mecca of education and are benefiting from the best America can offer. Yes, MCPS provides us with an apt education but it has its fair share of problems, such as rising amounts of overcrowded classrooms and frustrating politics.

Photo: The Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy recently purchased an old MCPS school in Rockville.

In November, the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) voted to sell the building of former Robert E. Peary High School in Rockville to the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, which has been renting the space since 1996. Many county politicians strongly opposed the sale because of MCPS's ever-increasing enrollment rate and the continual crowding of many area classrooms; instead, they said the school should remain in MCPS care for future use. These critics question why the county sold the property for a slim $1.9 million, the amount set in the 1996 lease. Some believe that certain politicians let their personal agendas influence their decision on the matter. Despite the heavy criticism, Montgomery County made the right choice in moving past its dividing politics and upholding its end of the deal by selling the building.

Opponents of the sale highlighted the fact that MCPS, now at 144,000 students, has been struggling with rapidly growing population for some time. "We've reclaimed and reopened many closed schools. And we anticipate that by 2016, we'll have 155,000 students," BOE member Patricia O'Neill said. However, while overcrowding is an issue that needs to be dealt with, repurchasing the building is not the way to solve it. O'Neill herself added that there is no current need for the Peary High site.

Council member Phil Andrews commented that County Executive Ike Leggett might be going along with the sale as a favor for a former aide; Leggett retorted that this aide had been helping a campaign that Andrews opposes. All of this quibbling and political finger pointing is childish. The BOE made the decision to sell the building to Berman Hebrew – which has been using it for over ten years – likely for a variety of reasons and it is ridiculously short sighted to say that they made the wrong decision because of differing politics and the current educational buzzword "overcrowding."

As O'Neill stated, there is no present need in the county for the Peary facility. Overcrowding exists in many places across the county, but not severely enough in this Rockville neighborhood that the county saw it cost effective enough to buy the building.

Even if MCPS could repurchase Peary high school, owning an old building may prove to be costly. Dealing with the high maintenance costs would be a weighty task for a county with funds already spread too thin. Since 1996, Berman Hebrew has spent $8.2 million renovating the building to keep it up to shape. Severe budget cuts are hurting schools countywide and forcing educators to make do with what resources they have, add maintaining another school on top of that and it's a recipe for further disaster.

Despite the opposition and petty he-said-she-said surrounding the decision, MCPS made the right choice in selling the old Peary building. Not only will the county benefit from the money from the transaction, but they can use it to find a better solution to overcrowding and patch up holes throughout the school system. The Rockville neighborhood home to the Peary building does not have a dire need for a new school. The county needs to work with what it has right now to find a sizable solution to overcrowding and stop nitpicking over the politics of it all.

Marjorie Fuchs. Marjorie gets her name from a variety of sources- "Marjorie” being her Great-Grandmother's name and "Fuchs” meaning fox in German. She tends to go by Margie. Margie is keen on traveling, especially to new places, adores Europe and the American Southwest. She loves creativity, eclectic … More »

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