Let's Talk Boundaries

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

I wholeheartedly support the ongoing MCPS boundary analysis. It simply belies common sense that MCPS, now the nation’s 13th largest school system, hasn’t taken a comprehensive, countywide look at boundaries, schools, student generation and school capacity in decades. The last time MCPS comprehensively assessed boundaries

was in 1984, after an eleven year period during which enrollment declined by almost 30,000 students and the county closed 60 schools. Since then we’ve opened 65 schools and enrollment has increased by more than 70,000 students. MCPS has experiences explosive growth in the past 15 years alone, enrollment climbing from 138,334 in 2005-06 to more than 166,000 this year.

Looking at those numbers, and the fact that the county hasn’t comprehensively analyzed boundaries despite the incredible level of growth, perhaps it’s not surprising that our school system has so much unnecessary capacity imbalance. County-wide, at each level (elementary, middle and high school), enrollment is close to capacity, but individual school enrollment ranges from 62% to 201% of capacity. Some under-enrolled schools are adjacent to over-capacity schools. We have over 400 portable classrooms, costing the school system $6 million per year. In a school system where enrollment equals school capacity, we are spending money we don’t need to and have thousands of students every day in portable facilities where they are not as safe and secure as they would be inside a brick and mortar building.

So yes – I support the ongoing boundary analysis. MCPS is long overdue for an objective, county-wide, expert derived assessment of school and cluster boundaries. EVERY decision in a school system that says it’s data driven and evidence-based should START with comprehensive, objective data. We need a commonsense reboot to help us spend our capital dollars more efficiently and effectively, and ensure that every student is in a safe, adequate learning environment.

Going forward, I would like to think our county and school-system would learn a lesson from decades of neglecting to routinely assess boundaries, and the negative impact that has had on our budget, our buildings, and our students. Coming up with a routine method of evaluating school boundaries and capacity on a regular cycle, so we can make small adjustments as needed – changing cluster assignments, moving or adding programs to meet demand, or even changing boundaries. We have a regular process in the Montgomery County Planning Department’s quadrennial review of the Subdivision Staging Policy. As part of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, SSP review focuses on evaluating school capacity and transportation infrastructure as it relates to ongoing and proposed development. That regular evaluation could be adapted – in partnership with MCPS – to include looking specifically at boundaries and school capacity every four or eight years. A regular, predictable, transparent method of keeping on top of growth, the adequacy of infrastructure, student generation and enrollment.

Another important aspect of this ongoing boundary analysis is taking a solid look at the demographic imbalance of our schools. We are a majority minority school system, and have been for 20 years. Currently our enrollment is 31% Hispanic, 28% White, 22% Black, 15% Asian and 4% Mixed race/other. Ideally, wouldn’t enrollment at every school come close to approximating that? County-wide, our percentage of students living in poverty (using FARMs as a proxy) is an unacceptably high 37.5%. Ideally no school would exceed that percentage of students living in poverty.

However, despite the fact that Equity has long been one of MCPS’ core values, our very

diverse school system is not a system of diverse schools. The racial, cultural and socioeconomic

composition of individual schools is highly variable. Because our neighborhoods are de facto segregated, so are our schools. We have 25 comprehensive high schools – the highest FARMS rate in a high school is 59.6%, the lowest 1.2%. We have 40 middle schools, the highest FARMS rate in middle school is 65.1%, the lowest 2.4%. Most strikingly, we have 135 elementary schools, with FARMS rates ranging from 0% to 88%.

These numbers are clear – though equity is a core value of our school system, the actual composition of our schools is far from equitable.

Our students have spoken eloquently about their lived experience of our public schools, and their vision

of truly equitable and diverse schools. They have reminded us that evidence shows that all students do well in truly diverse schools, and that diverse schools are outstanding preparation for living and working in our ever-shrinking and ever-more- diverse world. And if any group can speak knowledgeably about the reality of our schools it’s the students who inhabit those halls and walls. Their lived experience should inform everything we do, every decision we make, as a school system.

Recently we have heard far too much “my school”, “your school”, “those kids”. They are ALL our schools, and they are ALL our students. Public schools must embody intentional and proactive antidotes to anything that fosters acceptance of inequality. I hope that the data derived from the ongoing boundary analysis can help MCPS take a thoughtful look at our school system from soup to nuts, and use the information from the analysis to thoughtfully and constructively find innovative ways to correct the institutional and structural inequities in our schools, and create a system in which every school is excellent, and every student has the ability to truly succeed and thrive.

(Here's my testimony from the Nov. 18, 2019 Districtwide Boundary Analysis hearing.)

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