GAITHERSBURG – The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Office of Procurement recently posted a request for proposals, outlining what its staff wanted in a contracted analysis of how it determines boundary line changes.
The Montgomery County Board of Education wanted to make sure future reviews of school assignment boundary lines are in line with their policy and mission. MCPS officials and board of education members designate the work described in the request for proposals (RFP) as a boundary review analysis. MCPS needed public feedback before it could determine the scope of the work and post the RFP. Earlier this year, staff spent months hosting community engagement sessions, or public meetings, to gather input from parents, guardians, students and community members on what they wanted the study to include.
The analysis would not make any recommendations on specific school boundaries. Rather, it would only focus on what factors MCPS should consider in future boundary decisions.
Board member Rebecca Smondrowski (District 2) said she was glad that MCPS established the scope of the study. The staff was “intentionally conscientious” in how they arrived at the scope of the analysis, she said.
Board member Judy Docca (District 1) said July 5 she had no feelings to express about MCPS publishing the scope because the board still needs to approve a consultant. Docca added that she had not received word that MCPS had received a proposal.
Some language in the RFP include comments from residents made during the public sessions, according to the documents.
The upcoming boundary review analysis will be different from a boundary study in that it will give some suggestions about how MCPS determines the boundaries, but not for making any changes to boundaries.
Smondrowski said the findings of the boundary review analysis will help inform future MCPS decisions.
“It’s not a boundary study – which would imply that changes are definitely going to be made,” Smondrowski said. “This is a boundary analysis and so (…) it’s a big-picture look at the current boundaries, and what the possibilities are for the future.”
Docca said the boundary review analysis will guide the way MCPS goes about making boundary decisions.
“We have (recently amended policy) FAA, which means we have to look (through) the equity lens and make sure that we’re being justified in making any of the changes that we have,” said Docca. “So, we thought we needed a company to come in and look at what we’re doing and look at what we can do, to give us some ideas about the population and if it’s (the population is) going to shift.”
The analysis may not result in any changes to future MCPS boundary studies either. The consultant(s) will give suggestions and then MCPS will choose whether to use them.
“They’re just doing the study for us, and no, we may not use any of their suggestions,” said Docca of the prospective consultants seeking the MCPS contract.
Enrollment has increased, and demographics and needs of the student population have changed over the past couple of decades, according to the RFP. The MCPS student population is 32.3 percent Hispanic or Latino; 28.3 percent white; 21.4 percent black or African American; 14.4 percent Asian; and less than five percent represent two or more races, American Indian or Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.
During the community engagement sessions held at various schools and the Carver Educational Services Center, some residents accused the school system of committing segregated actions based on race or income level and that people who do not reside in the high-income areas have lower-quality education and facilities.
One factor for the request for the boundary review analysis is the fact that the board amended the policy on public education facilities planning, also known as policy FAA, to add increasing diversity as a factor to consider in planning where to assign students in the fall of 2018.
Whoever wins the contract must analyze the factors used by MCPS in determining boundary lines and compare those with elements considered by similarly sized school systems in decisions, according to the RFP.
The consultants will need to list the different approaches and methods that other school systems use to assign students to the schools they attend. Next, the consultant must indicate how those other methods could impact MCPS students if the school system chose to use them. Then, the consultant may give some suggestions as to how MCPS could change the way that it determines boundaries.
The board of education voted Jan. 8 to approve a resolution asking Superintendent Jack Smith to hire someone for what became known as the boundary review analyst.
MCPS will name a consultant or consultants in a couple of months. The period in which consultants can submit proposals opened July 1 and will close by the end of this month.
Sometimes boundaries are redrawn to reduce overcrowding in schools. However, a boundary review analysis is not a boundary study, a procedure used to determine which students will attend a new or newly renovated school. The analysis looks only at factors that MCPS considers or could consider when a boundary study takes place.
As requested in the board’s motion on Jan. 8, the prospective consultant should consider four factors in Policy FAA, Educational Facilities Planning: student demographics, geography, stability of assignments over time and facility utilization. Also, in the scope of the work section of the RFP, the authors wrote that the consultants must look at seven total “features.” Those include overcrowding, demographics, traffic patterns, transportation availability, special programs and space required for special programs. The consultant will also study whether the way the school board assigns students to schools is in line with policy and is effective.
The consultants who win the contract must be skilled in gathering public feedback and scheduling events for community members to give comments. They also need to be able to analyze different school systems, and how these determine school boundaries.
Smondrowski said it made sense to have the boundary review analysis now, given the fact that MCPS just did a review of the physical conditions of school buildings. That review looked at what MCPS called “key facility indicators” (KFIs). It revised the way MCPS picks which school construction projects are next in the budget.
One of the factors MCPS requests the consultant review is programs offered at a school. Smondrowski she believes is that the programs that are available to schools should be a factor considered in the analysis. Smondrowski said several students do not attend their home schools, and so it would make sense for decisions on assigning students to schools consider the programs offered at various schools, which may draw students from other high school feeder areas.
MCPS procurement staff hope to receive responses to the RFPs in the next few weeks, after which it the window to submit a proposal will close.
MCPS spokesperson Chris Cram said the superintendent will select the consultant or consultants, and then it will be up to the board to vote to approve the selection.
The project will start as a one-year contract, but staff may recommend the board extend it by one year, up to two times.