ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to approve its staff’s pick for a consultant who will review how the county determines school boundaries.
Superintendent Jack Smith said in a memorandum to the board that Consultant WXY Architecture + Urban Design will conduct the districtwide boundary review analysis because of characteristics that fit in with Montgomery County Public School’s (MCPS) goals. The firm also received a positive response from staff and from stakeholders outside MCPS, who gave input during the selection process.
“This firm demonstrated a connection to the intent of the project scope; brings potential for innovative approaches to this assessment and review; and had support from the community stakeholders engaged in our review process,” Smith said on Aug. 29.
XY Architecture + Urban Design will receive up $475,000 to perform a yearlong project that county staff and the board are calling a districtwide boundary review analysis. The fiscal year 2020 budget includes the cost of the analysis.
“I think that this is reasonable (…) given, you know, the scope,” said Board Member Jeanette Dixon. “Because we are just asking them to do an analysis; we’re not making any decisions about moving students all over the place.”
WXY Architecture + Urban Design will also compare the way MCPS determines boundaries with the approaches of nearby school systems with similar demographics, according to the request for proposal (RFP). Currently, MCPS assigns students to their schools based on where they live to the campus boundary lines.
Once WXY Architecture + Urban Design completes the analysis and provides recommendations, the board still has no obligation to use them.
Director of Operations Essie McQuire said stakeholders involved in the selection process were a group of limited size, as per protocol for MCPS procurement. Before that, MCPS received input from a greater range of students, parents and guardians.
Leading up to the board’s contract award vote on Aug. 29, the opportunity to weigh in on the possible scope of the project drew attention from many members of the public. Residents gave input on the scope of the work during staff-coordinated public hearings in various parts of the county earlier this year.
Several parents and guardians of students and other county residents said during the public hearing the process would reassign their children to another school. However, board members and staff explained that the contract will not dictate changes in school assignment.
Any changes to boundary lines after the review analysis would require a board vote before staff may implement them.
“There’s a lot of heightened community interest in this effort,” Board Member Patricia O’Neill said during the meeting. “And, I want to add that at the end of the day, this contract will not change specific boundaries; it will only be by action of the board of education at a later date.”
Before the vote, Board Member Rebecca Smondrowski said it was important to take care in selecting an award recipient and that she wondered about the request for receiving two vendors.
“I just want to make sure that we’re not rushing it (selecting a vendor) for a reason other than ‘this is the best way to proceed,” Smondrowski said.
O’Neill said that the board could use the money for something that would help students in another way than the boundary review, so she wanted to make sure that MCPS spends the money wisely.
“That’s a lot of money,” she said, echoing something Smondrowski said.
After the meeting, Dixon said the staff’s collection of public input into the process helped make their final decision.
“This is a big system, you know,” said Dixon. “And so, things cost us – I don’t have any problems with spending our funds that are needed to be spent, but … I believe in being a good steward of the funds.”
Dixon said she believes the analysis is timely because about 30 years have elapsed since the last time MCPS examined how it determines school boundaries.
Aug. 29 was not the original date on which the board was slated to approve someone for the job.
The board was scheduled to vote on approving a consultant in July, but the staff did not have a consultant to recommend at the time. Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman and McGuire on July 29 told the board that the application window would remain closed, and they chose to wait until the following month to announce the recommendation, upon the board’s return at the start of the new school year.