GAITHERSBURG – Both public and private schools increased enrollment at the elementary school level in the past seven years.
Montgomery County Public Schools interim superintendent Larry Bowers addressed overcrowding in the Gaithersburg and Quince Orchard clusters in his supplement recommendations to updating the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) last week.
MCPS spokesperson Dana Tofig said schools in the Gaithersburg Cluster are 350 students over capacity now but without action, the cluster will grow to a 1,385 student-to-space deficit, which would require temporary classrooms.
“We have been growing by about 2,500 students a year for the last seven years, and a lot of that enrollment—most of that enrollment—has been in the elementary schools,” said Tofig.
The number of elementary school students has increased in Gaithersburg private schools. The Avalon School, a second through twelfth grade Catholic School, added kindergarten and first grade classes during the 2012 and 2013 school year, said school headmaster Kevin Davern.
Mother of God School principal Hall Miller said although the school is small and does not reflect the overall enrollment increase in the Gaithersburg cluster of MCPS, the school has increased its pre-kindergarten capacity from 40 to 60 in the past three years to meet the demand for that age group.
MCPS said elementary school enrollment in the Gaithersburg cluster has increased by more than 730 students since 2007 but that enrollment for the same group increased by 100 students in the Col. Zadok Magruder Cluster and decreased in the Thomas S. Wootton Cluster.
Bowers said it is possible students in Gaithersburg elementary schools will be reassigned to either of the two clusters since they have space available.
Melissa McKenna, CIP chairman for Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, said MCPS is not considering re-drawing boundaries for elementary schools.
While there is capacity in Laytonsville, it would be too far away for Gaithersburg Elementary School students to walk, said McKenna, noting more than 800 students at the school walk to school.
New residential developments at Crown Farm Development and Shady Grove Sector are likely to increase enrollment at Gaithersburg Cluster.
Tofig said MCPS would consider building new schools if there were “unlimited money” and more space to build the schools. This is not an option in the Gaithersburg Cluster.
Instead, Bowers said he is seeking other ways to make room for the students such as redrawing boundaries of school assignment to use the capacity within the school system.
“As we deal with capacity issues throughout the district, we have an obligation to our community and our taxpayers to look at all options available to us,” said Bowers. “I look forward to hearing from the roundtable discussion group as we consider the capital needs of these clusters.”
Another reassignment recommendation is the Quince Orchard cluster since Rachel Carson Elementary School is one of the most over-filled schools in the county.
It will be at least five years before all additions and reassignments happen, said Tofig. Rachel Carson already has 10 temporary, portable classrooms.
Bowers asked MCPS to take a “big picture” view of how the school system will accommodate its continually increasing student enrollment.
Possibilities to reduce student enrollment at overcapacity schools include reassigning students to other schools; building new classrooms onto other schools and then reassigning Rachel Carson Elementary students to them; or building another elementary school in the Quince Orchard cluster.
Bowers Thursday recommended considering amending the plans for DuFief Elementary School in Wootton cluster to hold 740 students, rather than the current plan for 330 students by 2021-2022. Bowers said building a new school in the cluster would be too expensive for the number of students exceeding school capacity.
Tofig said no reassignments will occur until the round-table discussions take place.
The earliest the superintendent would recommend changes to the CIP is October-November 2016, Tofig said.
Bowers also suggested four addition projects to be completed in the Down County Consortium by August 2020, including Montgomery Knolls, Pine Creek, East Silver Spring, Woodlin elementary schools. He said this would be less expensive than building a new school in the cluster.