The New Mark Commons Homes Association Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday, November 2, in support of parents who are opposing a schools plan that would put neighborhood children in a new elementary school where 53 percent of students would receive free and reduced meals (FARMS) benefits.
The School Board is expected to hold hearings November 6, 8 and 16 on the issue. New Mark residents Andre Dahlman and Andrew Breychak have speaking slots for the November 8 hearing and are encouraging New Mark residents to turn out to the sessions.
The new school (RMES#5) is expected to open in September 2018 at 332 West Edmonston Drive.
The FARMS rate is an indication of economic diversity in a school. The Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith has put forth a last-minute plan that would reduce the FARMS rate at Beall Elementary School, where NMC children currently go, while boosting the originally proposed FARMS rate at the new school from 37% to 53%.
The plan would lower the FARMS rate at Beall, Ritchie Park and College Garden schools to 10 to 17 percent. Twinbrook Elementary, which is not overcrowded, wants to remain at 61% FARMS to keep federal Title I benefits and to keep children in proximity to their school. The plan would create a “massive disparity in socioeconomic demographics among RM cluster elementary schools,” wrote Kevin Kiesler in a public discussion of the issue.
About 15 parents from New Mark Commons and neighboring Markwood community along Potomac Valley met Wednesday, November 1, at the Clubhouse to discuss the growing opposition to the superintendent’s plan.
The parents agreed to call for the Board of Education to keep a uniform FARMS rate at 25% throughout the four elementary schools.
The parents at the meeting Wednesday night also supported a modified option that would provide for children from bordering Rose Hill neighborhood to attend the new school, which would help lower the FARMS rate there.
Resident Miki Komlosh briefed the NMC Board about the parents’ meeting, saying: “There’s a problem with numbers. They do not add up” She noted that the last-minute proposal by Superintendent Smith had never been discussed during months of boundary meetings held by parents and others earlier this year.
As momentum built over the past two weeks in online discussions, the New Mark Commons Board commissioned an online survey of residents to determine if they support the Board’s taking a position and to sample residents’ opinions.
About 65 residents responded, and most urged the Board to take a stance, according to Board Secretary-Treasurer David Schwartzman who analyzed the results. Most were opposed to the superintendent’s plan.
Board President John Daroff , who noted that he is a parent of a future kindergartner, said he is concerned not only about the impact on actual classroom performance and achievement gaps.
“I do think that rate could have an impact on our home values,” John said.
David agreed, saying the most recent RMES#5 proposal could adversely affect not only the children of future New Mark residents but also property values.
Board Member Alex Belida hailed the engagement of New Mark parents on the school issue. “I’ve been impressed by the group that has come together on this,” he said. He said the entire community, whether they have school age children or not, should step up to support them. However he said the focus should not be on property values but rather on the value New Mark has always placed on diversity.
The Board voted unanimously to support a target of 25% FARMS rate across all schools with the exception of Twinbrook Elementary ; and to support a modified “Option 2” which would also bring the Rose Hill neighborhood into the new school.
John said he would formulate a letter to that effect over the weekend and circulate it among Board members.
Residents involved in the issue are calling for a large turnout to Board of Education hearings on November 6 , 8 and 16. The Board of Education is to meet on November 14 in closed session from 8:30-10 am, with public items starting at 10 a.m. The meeting is to be broadcast. (http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/boe/)
Andre Dahlman said he also plans to speak at the Rockville Mayor and Council meeting Monday night, November 6. Mayor and Council met with Board of Education representatives last week on the boundary issue.
The group has adopted a symbol- #Diversify@25 – to express their call for a 25% FARMS rate across the cluster, and suggested that residents writing to the school system refer to that symbol. The email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Printed letters can also have an effect, residents said: Carver Educational Services Center
850 Hungerford Drive, Room 123, Rockville, MD 20850.