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By Neal Earley @neal_earley
ROCKVILLE — A change to Richard Montgomery High School’s capacity moratorium could be coming soon.
On Dec. 17, the Mayor and Council will hold a public hearing on changing the City’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance to increase Richard Montgomery High School’s capacity limit from 120 percent to 150 percent.
The move would mean the school, already overcrowded, could see even more students and portables before anything is done to ease the overcrowding.
Currently, the APFO puts a moratorium on development when Richard Montgomery High School exceeds 120-percent capacity. Council member Mark Pierzchala is proposing to increase it to 150 percent of capacity before a moratorium is enacted.
Pierzchala proposed an amendment to the APFO that would only allow for extra development in Rockville Town Center and the South Pike regions, areas in which Pierzchala said the City has already approved development or are in need of more development.
As of now, many of Rockville’s schools are over capacity, including Richard Montgomery and Thomas S. Wootton high schools. However, Pierzchala argued that if the City allowed for more development, inflating the capacity for both school clusters, it would force the Board of Education’s hand to approve more school construction funding to meet the needs of overcrowded schools in the City.
“Experience teaches me the more quickly a school is overcrowded, the more quickly the school system takes care of it,” Pierzchala said.
Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton disagreed, saying increasing the moratorium to allow for even more development would put a hard-to-manage strain on schools in the City.
“What it will mean is more of our children are in portables, more of our teachers are trying to educate more children than I would suggest is reasonably attained in a classroom,” Newton said.
While Rockville controls zoning and development within its city boundaries, it has no say over school construction funds, which lies with the members of the Montgomery County Board of Education responsible for overseeing all public schools in the County.
Pierzchala argued that pushing the limits of capacity at schools in Rockville by increasing density and development is the only way to send a message to the BOE that Rockville’s schools need improvements and expansion, saying that Twinbrook and College Gardens elementary schools are “decrepit,” but are unlikely to receive construction dollars from the BOE, given that neither is crowded enough when compared to other schools in the County.
In addition, Newton argued that the change to the APFO is happening too quickly, with Pierzchala suggesting the change during a Nov. 13 Mayor and Council meeting, with a general Mayor and Council discussion on Dec. 17 and a public hearing in early January, just before Council member Julie Palakovich Carr leaves her seat to go to the Maryland House of Delegates.
“You have to do things in a systematic, balanced way going forward, and if you value the quality of life that we moved to Montgomery County for, if you value the level of education that MCPS [Montgomery County Public Schools] is known worldwide for, then you cannot compromise on the standards that get us there,” Newton said.
Pierzchala said that change to the APFO is badly needed, as the struggling town center has seen many retail stores close up shop. Pierzchala said the best solution to Rockville’s struggling business climate is greater density, meaning more foot traffic in the town center.
“I don’t want MCPS to dictate our development,” Pierzchala said. “It takes one set of problems and creates another set of problems. It really hurts our ability to make Town Center successful.”