ROCKVILLE –Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) staff amended its timeline for the boundary review analysis, days before it was scheduled to recommend a consultant to the Board of Education.
Staff wrote in the request for proposal that it would recommend a selection to the board on Aug. 1. However, Chief Operating Officer Andy Zuckerman and Executive Director of Operations Essie McGuire announced during the board of education’s July 29 business meeting that they will instead recommend a consultant or group of consultants during the next scheduled board of education meeting, on Aug. 29, four weeks after the original date. MCPS had received two proposals and is considering both.
McGuire said that the date change will not disrupt the schedule of the boundary review analysis because staff had allowed extra time for that.
“No, I wouldn’t say there was a delay,” McGuire said after the meeting. “We really…it was always a possibility that we might award it last night (July 29), but the bottom line is that we need more time to review the proposals, and so we’re going to take that time to really, you know, really engage and talk to (those submitting) the proposals fully.”
Sometimes MCPS staff hire consultants to conduct boundary studies such as when a new school or new school addition is built, to find ways to redistribute students between schools to use the additional space.
Those processes are followed by public hearings, in which members of the public may weigh in on whether they support or do not support options for changing the boundaries. The board then votes to determine the new boundaries.
The boundary review analysis is different from a boundary study, which pertains to assigning students to schools they will attend. The consultants will include an analysis of how MCPS determines school assignment boundaries and compares or “benchmarks” them with methodologies of similarly sized school systems with similar demographics to those of MCPS. The consultants will also offer an analysis of whether the current boundary review practices align with the board policy on public education facilities planning, also known as policy FAA, which the board amended in the fall of 2018. The board amended it to determine whether a boundary decision would increase diversity of a student body as a factor for consideration.
MCPS staff spent a couple of months this year hosting public meetings attended by students, students’ parents and guardians, former school parents and various county residents, providing an opportunity for community members to weigh in on what scope of the analysis – to incorporate into an RFP – should be.
The meetings leading up to MCPS’ posting the request for proposal (RFP) were not the end of public input opportunities for the study. However, the RFP called for a consultant or group of consultants versed not only in school boundary reviews, but also in conducting public meetings to gather feedback from community members. The successful respondent to the RFP will need to host meetings with community members to seek feedback on its research findings part of the way through the contract.
The RFP outlined requirements for the proposals, including studying the impact of a list of “features” on current and future boundaries.
The offeror must analyze the impact of the following (seven) features on both the current boundaries and any potential boundary modifications,” according to the RFP requirements. These include facility utilization, student body demographics, transportation patterns, geographic proximity to schools and the concept of “community schools,” which offer services to students and their families and the frequency of review of school boundaries.
Staff heard many comments of support of the study, but not all responses were positive. Between the various meetings – when people could sign up and express their opinions about the upcoming boundary review – several self-identified parents said that they feared the boundary review would reassign their children to schools that are not “good schools.” However, various MCPS staff and boardmembers have clarified that changing school assignment boundaries is not within the scope of the boundary review.
On the evening of the most recent board meeting, county resident Sarah Katz, who graduated from John F. Kennedy High School several years ago, said that she supports the idea of the boundary review analysis.
“My personal opinion from what I’ve read, it’s, you know, high time that we review our boundaries,” said Katz. “And the parents who are concerned about (their children) getting redistricted into other schools are – their concerns are overblown; Montgomery County is an excellent school system. All of our schools are excellent schools; any student from any school can be successful.”
MCPS did not include an estimated cost for the boundary review analysis in its RFP.
One parent who attended the meeting but did not want to be named said he wondered why parents were not notified that the meeting on July 29 would include the topic of the boundary review analysis. The man, who said he and his family attended the meeting so his son could meet a Boy Scouts requirement to attend a public meeting, also wanted to hear a little bit about the RFP finalists.
McGuire said parents and guardians are represented in the selection process, but that input about the final selection is not open to all parents and guardians in the school system. He explained the ongoing procurement discussions are closed to the public. MCPS staff must follow protocol in all procurement processes, which includes selection of a boundary review analysis proposal.