Citizen to Council member Chmelik: Advocate for critical new school in your district

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Wednesday, the Frederick County Board of Education will hold a Public Hearing on the 2015 Superintendent’s Recommended Educational Facilities Master Plan. This is an annual update of a ten year plan — a “blueprint” which establishes facility and funding priorities regarding new construction, as well as renovation and repair projects.

It would be an understatement to say that there are always more projects well worth funding than there are funds for them. Unfortunately, two Frederick County communities — Urbana and the west side of the City of Frederick — which have been advocating for much needed and long overdue projects to alleviate severe overcrowding, find themselves fighting to see their local projects advanced, while circumstances may make it necessary to delay one of them.

Envision Frederick County is not advocating for one over the other. And we are hopeful that the Board of Education may yet find a way to fund both Sugarloaf Elementary School (in Urbana) and Butterfly Ridge Elementary School (on Butterfly Lane, in the city).

Below is a letter from Matt Seubert to Council member Tony Chmelik asking him if he will advocate for much needed and long overdue Sugarloaf Elementary in Urbana — in his district.

We will be publishing a guest blog entry from someone else describing the reasons that so many parents and others have been advocating for the construction of Butterfly Ridge Elementary School.


Dear Friends & Neighbors,

We are facing a very real crisis of capacity in our schools, especially at Urbana and Centerville elementary schools. There have been recent articles in the Frederick News Post indicating that the construction of Sugarloaf Elementary could be delayed, perhaps indefinitely. Both Sugarloaf and Butterfly Ridge Elementary in West Frederick City (Hillcrest Community) were scheduled to be built concurrently and open in the summer of 2018. Now the county is saying there isn’t enough money to advance both of them on schedule.

See the following articles:

Frederick News Post
Gardner: Not enough money to keep Frederick County school construction on schedule
Thursday, August 27, 2015

Frederick News Post
Fight continues for which elementary school to be built first, Urbana or west Frederick
Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Frederick County Board of Education is holding a public hearing on the FCPS master plan of capital projects at 7:30 this Wednesday evening, Sept. 9th, at 191 S. East St., Frederick (more details below). They will be deciding which school to prioritize.

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Urbana is especially sensitive to additional overcrowding since we are still being built out. The Urbana Green apartment complex is going up, and just to our north, along the west side of 355, Natelli has broken ground on a new 600+ home development. If we don’t get a new school soon we will burst at the seams!

The Hillcrest community is getting a lot of support for their school from the city mayor and board of alderman. Meanwhile, we are getting close to no support from our local elected official. Urbana is in Frederick County Council District 2, which is represented by county councilmember Tony Chmelik.

chmelikheadshotTo be blunt, Chmelik is cozy with developers; his 2014 campaign for county council was heavily backed by financial contributions from them. He’s also a home builder by trade, so he has a potential business interest in ongoing development. He vociferously supported the 1,250 home Monrovia Town Center development a few miles east of Urbana at the junction of routes 75 & 80, despite the proven inadequacy of schools and roads.

Fortunately a local citizen’s group, RALE, (of which I am proud to be a board member) was successful in getting the county council (in a crucial vote taken just this past Tuesday) to kill the project that the prior BoCC had approved. It was a long, hard-fought battle. However, the developer will likely try to bring the project back to the table with new hearings before the planning commission and the new council government, possibly within the next 6 months. But that’s a whole separate issue for now….

Chmelik is on record supporting redistricting as an option to alleviate our overcrowded schools. In fact, just a few weeks ago at a Town Hall meeting he held at Urbana Library, he specifically identified Lincoln Elementary in the Hillcrest community as a potential destination school for kids in the Monrovia/Urbana districts. Lincoln Elementary is a Title I school, which means it gets federal subsidies since a majority of the kids who attend there qualify for the reduced cost meal program. To me, this is not a workable solution because the school could risk losing its Title I status if enough kids from our area get sent there. Also, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see my kid bused into Frederick, far from their own community.

I do want to see Chmelik at the Board of Education hearing to advocate for Sugarloaf Elementary. I have also written him to request that he contact the developers and ask them to slow down or halt the projects currently underway in Urbana until our schools can handle the additional students, which to me also means getting UES and CES at or under capacity so the kids are out of unsafe portables. It’s unconscionable to me that dirt is being moved on the Natelli housing project while the school that’s meant to seat its students could be delayed.

I don’t have faith that Chmelik will be an advocate for Sugarloaf Elementary unless he is pressured by his constituents. If you would like to contact him, his email at the county council is: Tchmelik@frederickcountymd.gov His office phone number is 301-600-1034. You can write to the members of the Board of Education here: fcpsmd@fcps.org

I am planning to go to the BOE meeting Wednesday to testify. I hope some of you will consider joining me. Finally, the next public meeting of the county council is 4:30 Tuesday, September 15, First Floor Hearing Room, Winchester Hall.

Please feel free to pass along this email to other parents/friends. Thank you for reading.


Public Hearing on the 2015 Superintendent’s Recommended Educational Facilities Master Plan
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
7:30 p.m.
Board Room
191 South East Street,
Frederick, Maryland

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Agenda Item Details

Meeting: Sep 09, 2015 – Public Hearing on the 2015 Superintendent’s Recommended Educational Facilities Master Plan [7:30 p.m.]

Category: Public Hearing

Subject: Board of Education Public Hearing on 2015 Superintendent’s Recommended Educational Facilities Master Plan [7:30 pm]

Type: Information, Discussion
Goals

  • Aspirational Goal 3 Resource Allocation – FCPS will pursue and utilize all resources strategically and responsibly to achieve identified outcomes and inspire public confidence.
  • Aspirational Goal 4 Family and Community Involvement – FCPS will nurture relationships with families and the entire community, sharing responsibility for student success and demonstrating pride in all aspects of our school system.
  • Aspirational Goal 5 Health and Safety – FCPS will promote a culture fostering wellness and civility for students and staff.

(SIGN-UP SHEET FOR PUBLIC COMMENT AVAILABLE AT 6 P.M.)

PURPOSE OF PRESENTATION: Public hearing to accept comments on the 2015 Draft Superintendent’s Recommended Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP).

BACKGROUND/SUMMARY: Each year, the Board of Education of Frederick County (BOE) reviews and updates the ten-year EFMP for the Frederick County Public Schools. This plan serves a number of purposes, some of which include the following:

  • To inform the public about long-range plans for educational facility improvements in Frederick County.
  • To present long-range enrollment projections and future facility needs.
  • To coordinate future new educational facility locations with county and municipal officials.
  • To coordinate with state officials regarding future facility needs and funding requirements.
  • To establish a schedule of needed major renovation and maintenance projects for existing buildings.
  • To comply with state regulations for an annual update of the local jurisdiction’s facilities plan.

PROCESS STATEMENT: The Draft Superintendent’s Recommended EFMP is the first draft of the plan, and was presented to the BOE in August for information and discussion. The BOE will hear public comment at tonight’s public hearing. Following review of public comments, the BOE will make such changes as it deems appropriate. The BOE is scheduled to approve the plan as well as a prioritized list of fiscal year 2017 major and systemic capital project funding requests at the September 23, 2015 BOE meeting. Electronic copies of the plan may be found at http://www.fcps.org/facilities/Educational-Facilities-Master-Plan.cfm.

PRESENTER(S) & TITLE(S):
Beth Pasierb, Supervisor, Facilities Planning

SUBMITTED BY:
Ray Barnes, Chief Operating Officer
09.09.15 Draft Superintendent’s Recommended Educational Facilities Master Plan_backup1.pdf (21,276 KB)


Frederick News Post
Fight continues for which elementary school to be built first, Urbana or west Frederick
Saturday, September 5, 2015

The announcement that Frederick County could not afford to fund two new schools simultaneously to address severe overcrowding — one on the west side of the city of Frederick, the other in Urbana — has spurred community advocates.

Though parents in both western Frederick and Urbana and the Board of Education have all said they do not wish to pit the communities against each other, representatives from each area have mobilized. Some have started lobbying efforts to the school board; others have struck up digital or grass-roots door-to-door campaigns.

Because the Board of Education members determine the order of school construction projects, the responsibility now falls to them to decide which school to prioritize. A public hearing on the Frederick County Public Schools master plan of capital projects is scheduled for Sept. 9 and will likely see heavy turnout from both sides.

Sugarloaf Elementary School, in Urbana, would sit west of Md. 355 and relieve the overflow at Urbana and Centerville elementary schools. Butterfly Ridge Elementary School, meanwhile, on Butterfly Lane, would primarily alleviate the overcrowding at Hillcrest Elementary, but also Waverley Elementary.
The Hillcrest community has devised a more traditional crusade, with some parents, including the PTA president, Lissette Colón, knocking on doors and urging their neighbors to attend the Wednesday hearing.

The recent attack nearby with a machete, which caused Hillcrest Elementary to be on partial lockdown for part of the day, served only to remind the parents how unsafe some aspects of the school are, including the many portable classrooms on campus, Colón said. The classrooms and other amenities are shoddy, too, and can’t handle the overflow of students.

“We only had a writing lab for like a year before it became a second lunchroom,” she said.

According to data from the previous school year, 956 children were enrolled at Hillcrest, even though the school’s capacity is 682 students. Hillcrest maintains a high Hispanic and low-income population; the postcard that the Hillcrest PTA sent home to children this week was printed with one side in English and the other in Spanish. Of the Hillcrest children, 569 identified as Hispanic and only 62 as white.

Eliezer Valentín-Castañón, the senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church, which is near Hillcrest, said he has offered the church as a space for parents to meet, if necessary. A high population of non-native English speakers presents challenges, he and Colón said, and can make advocacy difficult.

Valentín-Castañón said he does not wish to see the discussion morph into a battle of Hispanic
children versus white children. The Urbana population is primarily white and middle-class.

“This is not an issue about immigrant children, even though there are immigrant children. But there’s also immigrant children in Urbana,” he said. “Not everything is a conversation about us against them. It is a conversation about the children who need in Hillcrest, and the children who need in Urbana.”

Urbana Elementary also faces overcrowding, enrolling 730 students the previous school year, while the state-rated capacity was 663 students. But more concerning for parents are the nearby developments to the school, which have not yet finished but are being built up more every day.

Significant growth is expected in Urbana in the coming years, stemming from developments such as the Villages of Urbana.

Urbana Elementary is due for a replacement, too, according to the school system capital plan, after both Butterfly Ridge and Sugarloaf. School system staff members at an earlier meeting urged the Board of Education to consider building Sugarloaf and the new Urbana Elementary back to back, so that the students at Urbana Elementary could shift to Sugarloaf for the duration of construction.

Katie Conlee-Griffin, legislative chair of the Urbana Elementary School PTA, said that the dated, open-floor plan distracts students in the classroom. Most of the classrooms are separated not by walls, but by partitions, she said.

Urbana Principal Allie Watkins said he has not observed distraction in the classroom, but rather as the population of Urbana continues to grow, he has noticed traffic trouble, and he sees the writing on the wall.

Nima Fuentes, president of the PTA at Urbana, said the PTA has sent out email blasts encouraging a presence at the hearing and will post on the community Facebook page as well. Conlee-Griffin sent a direct email to the school board.

“Homes are still continuing to be built, the school is already over capacity. We don’t even have walls,” Fuentes said. “It’s just a safety issue. Even if they delay a year or two, the problem is just going to get worse.”

The Hillcrest community has garnered significant support from elected officials outside the Board of Education, which Urbana seemingly lacks.

The mayor and Board of Aldermen sent letters to both the County Council and school board reiterating their wishes that the Butterfly Ridge project stay on track.

Hillcrest provides the highest number of free and reduced-price lunches, and its students have historically received the lowest state test scores, according to the letter written by Mayor Randy McClement on behalf of the city. He also acknowledged the overcrowding in Urbana.

Several aldermen pointed to the Hargett Farm land gifted to the school system for the elementary school project as further reason why the city school funding should remain on track. The city sold 12 acres at Hargett Farm to the school board in 2012 for $1, according to the contract of sale.

“Part of that was because we wanted the project to move forward,” Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak said of the gifted land.

The sale agreement requires that the school board use the land for a new school site but does not specify when the project must be funded or built.

“I think everyone appreciates that costs have gone up and funding is tight,” said Alderman Josh Bokee, who accompanied Hillcrest parents while they were canvassing.

Bokee said he hopes to fill the Wednesday hearing with city residents and advocates for the city elementary school project. He shared information about the meeting with a Neighborhood Advisory Council in the city’s western end, and he said he will continue advertising the event to school and neighborhood groups.

Urbana, on the other hand, is unincorporated and lacks a governing body to advocate for its school project. District 1 County Councilman Jerry Donald, who represents parts of Urbana, wrote in an email to The Frederick News-Post that he hoped to fund both school projects.

Donald called for more state government funding to cover both projects as the “fair thing to do,” he wrote, since the state is largely responsible for the increased costs of school construction.

Two laws have sharply increased school construction costs. One is new enforcement of stormwater management; the other, about prevailing wage, dictates that construction workers receive higher pay when they work on some school construction projects.

In a phone interview, Board of Education President Brad Young said he has received emails with arguments for both schools. One day, he said, he received eight emails, one asking for Sugarloaf first, seven for Butterfly Ridge.

Young said that despite testimony from County Executive Jan Gardner that the county cannot fund both schools at the same time, the board still may vote on the capital plan that places both Sugarloaf and Butterfly Ridge opening in summer 2018. He said that the board should ask for the optimal needs of the school system.