ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Public Schools’ interim superintendent and executive staff will talk with the County Council Education Committee about recommendations and findings on replacing aging school buildings in a report as soon as the committee schedules a session.
The Office of Legislative Oversight wrote a report in late July examining the MCPS Revitalization/Expansion Plan.
The superintendent is reviewing the reports and recommendations made by the Office of Legislative Oversight and will share his recommendations for changes to the Revitalization/Expansion Plan with the board of education in late October.
The board of education will then meet to discuss the superintendent’s recommendations as well as the recommendations made by the Office of Legislative Oversight.
The interim superintendent, the chief operating officer, and the director of instruction will participate in the meeting with the County Council Education Committee about the report, Brian Edwards, chief communications officer of MCPS said.
Edwards said he did not know if a meeting had been scheduled. Edwards said he does not know whether or not the plan would go unchanged after the discussion in October.
“We are evaluating recommendations at this point in the report, and it is too early to discuss that,” said Edwards.
Recommendations involve new construction as well as renovations and revitalization projects that are included in the capital budget.
The County’s Office of Legislative Oversight examined the MCPS Revitalization/Expansion Program at the instruction of the County Council, which released its report July 28.
Office of Legislative Oversight officials compared the county school system with five school districts based on the number of school buildings in each district and how old the buildings are in those districts. Those districts include Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Fairfax County (Virginia), DeKalb County (Georgia) and Dallas (Texas).
Officials then compared the school system’s Revitalization/Expansion program with the five other districts.
According to the report, the OLO stated MCPS differed from five comparable districts in the way it selected schools to revitalize.
MCPS evaluates school buildings with a standardized system referred to as Facilities Assessment with Criteria and Testing.
According to the report, MCPS updated the FACT methodology and conducted a round of assessments in 2011.
If a school exceeding its population capacity is scheduled for revitalization or expansion, MCPS may include school capacity in the scope of the project, according to the report.
The 2011 assessments evaluated the characteristics of school buildings that directly affect learning and the physical conditions of the school buildings.
The OLO said staffers found errors in the FACT scores used to determine the order in which schools were due for revitalization or expansion.
According to the report, correcting the errors would change the results of the FACT assessments. That would alter the revitalization schedule for schools.
“For many schools, a one- or two-point change in their FACT [scores] would have altered their [rankings] in the queue,” according to the report.
County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At large) said he was not surprised by some parts of the report but added the OLO’s discovery of FACT score calculation errors caught his attention.
“The fact that the ratings were so invalid was a major concern,” said Elrich, a member of the council’s Education Committee.
Elrich said he thinks the board of education needs to be informed of all the ways a school’s capacity could be increased through a revitalization or expansion project.
He explained that he used to think the county was “too quick” to knock down and rebuild buildings before the report came out.
The OLO found MCPS scheduled schools for revitalization based almost entirely on age rather than through the use of assessments of building deficiencies, according to the report.
Four of the five districts examined by the OLO included in their building assessments all schools in the district, according to the report.
MCPS reconstructs schools more often than the five districts mentioned by the OLO. The report states the assessments in other districts often result in target renovations; only schools that are in the worst conditions are considered for reconstruction.
“In comparison, MCPS Revitalization/Expansion projects most frequently involve complete or near complete reconstruction of a school building,” stated the OLO.
The OLO examined policies, budget documents and Revitalization/Expansion Program materials and also interviewed MCPS staff.
“Over the past 15 years, about one-third of the district’s 38 revitalization/expansion projects retained existing structures in lieu of a complete rebuild,” said MCPS Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers.
Bowers said that retaining portions of an original school rather than tearing it down and reconstructing it will likely become more frequent when MCPS begins revitalization or expansion projects on schools built in the 1980s.
Bowers said that the similarities between counties in size and age, though they are valid, are not sufficient for comparison since the report did not include the requirements for green buildings.
He added that the number of school reconstructions is due the age of the schools in conjunction with the state requirements for storm water management and The U.S. Green Building certification standards.
For this reason, some of the counties included were not worthy comparisons, Bowers said. Bowers used Fairfax County as an example.
“Fairfax County Public Schools routinely builds additional square footage adjacent to existing buildings, which is something that MCPS cannot do,” Bowers said.
Elrich pointed out that reconstruction/expansion projects do not need to be located next to the existing building in order to add to an existing structure.
While aging buildings may not be strong enough to support an addition made on top of them on their own strength, MCPS has not considered its options, he said.
There are other construction techniques that are used in the commercial world that add height to structures that could not support additional height, Elrich said.
Elrich said that although MCPS needs to include the storm water management in developing a revitalization-expansion plan, “storm water management is not the be-all, end-all in the discussion.”
He said MCPS should do more work to find alternatives to complete reconstruction.
In his letter, Bowers said the report overlooked important items but that MCPS would look at two of OLO’s reported findings – the errors in calculations and changes in school conditions between assessment and when the schools are due for revitalization or expansion.
“First, the report identifies some errors made by a consultant in the scoring of schools using the FACT assessment, and, second we will examine the issue of how conditions may change at schools between the time of their assessment and their revitalization/expansion,” Bowers said.
He acknowledged the conditions of schools will change as the wait for revitalization-expansion increases due available funding.
Bowers said he would consider these two findings in his Recommended FY 2017 Capital Budget and FY 2017-2022 Capital Improvements Program due out in October. The OLO is due to follow up on the report with the County Council Sept. 21.