MCPS: No Imminent Boundary Changes on Table
UPDATED, July 16, 2 p.m. The Montgomery County School board was quick to dispel suggestions of any imminent plans for a boundary study as a way of eliminating the achievement gap after county council members on Monday suggested redistricting could be used in the effort.
School officials and the council’s Education Committee got a briefing Monday from the Office of Legislative Oversight on the widening gap between the success in school of students who come from low and high income families. It was there that the council pressed Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr and board President Phil Kauffman about adjusting school boundaries to provide a better socio-economic mix of students in schools.
The school board response was swift and came in the form of a statement from the board on its website as well as a video release of the board’s Tuesday meeting.
Kauffman said in the meeting Tuesday in no uncertain terms, that the board only changes boundaries to deal with crowded schools, new schools or closing schools, not as a tool to alter the demographics of a school.
“Whether or not that is something we should do; that is something we need to be vetting with our community,” Kauffman said during the meeting. “I do not want the community to think after yesterday’s conversation that we are initiating boundary changes wholesale. That is not what I communicated and that is something that needs a rich conversation.”
Councilmember Cherri Branson said she was “perplexed” by the school board’s comments made one day after she met with some of the members on the issue.
“Monday they were open to it and before the sun set on Tuesday they are like, there is no way no how. I am very confused as to what transpired to go from being open to shut,” Branson said when reached by MCM on Wednesday.
She specifically pointed to a comment Starr made during the Monday briefing that said- “At no time did we say boundaries are off limits. What we are suggesting is it is a complex undertaking that must work in concert with other factors in the community to make very difficult decisions about boundaries.”
“None of us misheard it and he mentioned it a couple times so he didn’t misspeak,” she said.
In the school board release, Kauffman said the school system should be more aggressive in weighing in on the county’s housing policy to help ensure there is a mix of ethnic and income diversity in a school. He pointed to the recent White Flint plan that calls for 9,800 new homes, 980 of which are expected to be workforce housing units. Many of those however, Kauffman said, are not sized for families.
“We did say that when asked the more appropriate converstation is where students live and the county should be looking at its housing poilcy and where we put affordable housing in this county. If the county is interested in having more minority or FARM students attending schools in the western side of the county that is something the county should look at it in terms of the housing policy,” he said.
A new study included in this year’s schools’ budget is set to examine choice programs in the school system. This study will take a close look at how well choice programs such as magnet schools, immersion programs and the downcounty and northeast consortia are working and could consider the effect of boundaries on how these programs serve students, according to the school system’s news release.