As Rockville officials argue whether to change the city’s school standards for residential development to align with the county’s, county officials say the city’s standards have little to do with school funding decisions.
While the county’s Subdivision Staging Policy, adopted in 2012, puts a moratorium on residential development when a cluster reaches 120 percent capacity, Rockville adopted its own ordinance in 2005 that caps the limit at 110 percent.
Rockville evaluates program capacity for two years from the time an application is approved and measures capacity for each school, while the county evaluates from five years from the application date and judges capacity by averaging school clusters.
“The county makes decisions based on its test. They’re all our citizens and so we treat everyone equally,” said Deputy County Council Administrator Glenn Orlin.
Councilmember Tom Moore has advocated for changing the city’s Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) for schools to align with the county’s and hopes to have a vote on the issue on Feb. 9. He said the city’s standards withhold money from Rockville schools and so do not alleviate overcrowding in the long run.
As one example, he said the county decided not to set aside “solution” funding in preparation for future elementary and middle school projects, based on a 2011 memo Orlin wrote the County Council, because it would not alleviate the moratorium in that cluster of Rockville.
“Virtually all of the Richard Montgomery Cluster lies within in the city of Rockville, where the county’s school adequacy test does not apply. Rockville’s test counts capacity only from schools funded in the next two years, so even if the two Richard Montgomery Cluster PDFs remain, they would have no effect on the residential building moratorium in Rockville,” Orlin wrote in the memo.
But Orlin said even then, Rockville’s standards did not make a long-term difference.
“This was placeholder funding because the county knew the Board of Education would propose a full project within the next couple of years to alleviate this capacity. The Rockville APFO did not make a difference either way,” Orlin said. “The placeholder funding would not make it easier or harder to fund the full project when the BOE proposed it.”
Now, the BOE’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget includes an addition for Julius West Middle School to be completed in August 2016 and a new elementary school for the Richard Montgomery cluster scheduled for August 2017 completion and recommended for August 2016 completion in this year’s proposed CIP budget amendments.
Before the school budget gets to the county council, the BOE makes its recommendations after multiple work sessions and public hearings.
“Any changes in the city of Rockville will not impact how our CIP process comes about because we don’t allocate funds to (any municipalities),” BOE President Patricia O’Neill said. “It’s done based on MCPS need.”
Last year, the board started prioritizing capacity needs over age, according to Melissa McKenna, vice president for advocacy at the Maryvale Elementary School PTA. She said the order of schools in line for revitalization/expansion projects does not change, but the board has flexibility in how it merges that list with those schools that need additions or boundary studies to alleviate capacity.
McKenna also said when the county council gets the budget, they can get funding but do not typically decide where funding goes. As someone who has advocated for funding in the CIP process, McKenna said she did not see the board focusing on the consequences on potential moratoria.
“(The money) is going where the need is. If that’s where the need is, that’s where it goes,” McKenna said.
At the first public hearing on the proposed changes to Rockville’s APFS, Rose Krasnow, mayor from 1995-2001, said the county standards would have fewer negative consequences for the city than the current standards.
“The city has no control over construction of new schools because that is strictly a county responsibility,” she said at the hearing. “They view Rockville’s attitude as somewhat antagonistic and not willing to work with them.”
But others involved in the original adoption of the APFO in 2005, such as former councilmember John Hall, said it is disingenuous to describe the APFO as “harmful” to the city.
“What we have is a well-founded, well-researched, rational set of standards regarding school capacity when it comes to the APFO and I really encourage folks to recognize that these suggestions that somehow Rockville’s standards have harmed the city are entirely without merit. It’s really a misleading argument to suggest that that’s the case. The county has made it clear to us it has absolutely no impact whatsoever on their approach to capital improvement funding,” Hall said.
Some have also said Rockville should be advocating for the county to restrict its standards on residential development to alleviate MCPS overcrowding.
“(The kids) are coming regardless of what the APFO or APFS standard in Rockville is. They’re coming,” McKenna said. “What should really happen is this discussion needs to move literally across the street to the county council because that’s where I think they will take more notice, when more of the county goes into moratorium. I’m not sure the finances are there. If we can’t support the current CIP for current levels of overcrowding, I’m not sure what we get by revising the standard down but it seems like if that’s the way it went, the county would have to do something more to support the schools.”
Moore said in the past he would support advocating at the county level but thinks the city first has to align its standards with the county’s standards to be on common ground.
Aside from the Rockville debate, Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-1) has decided to convene a public forum on the county’s standards, although he has not yet announced a timeline. Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton said earlier this month she would like to wait to see what the county does before changing Rockville’s standards.
“I really think it would be the smartest thing we could do to step back and make sure that we are on the right path and that we do have the authority that some of us think we have,” Newton said on Jan. 5.
Councilmember Sidney Katz (D-3) served as mayor of Gaithersburg for 16 years prior to taking office in December. Gaithersburg also has an APFS more restrictive than the county’s. Although he did not say the municipalities’ standards hurt them when it comes to school funding, Katz said he thinks the issue is best resolved if everyone is on the same page.
“It’s a difficult topic. It really truly is,” Katz said. “If we can all sit down at the same table, there’s a great possibility that we can have a better situation for all involved.”