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Rockville Reconsiders School Capacity Standards

CLAUDIA_ESPINOZA_Construction

Ten years ago, Rockville adopted the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) and Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) in an effort to “establish minimum service standards for public facilities such as transportation, schools, water, sewer, and fire protection,” according to the City of Rockville’s website. These standards would curb further development in the city if these public resources are strained by existing development and population growth.

Currently, Rockville’s standards differ from Montgomery County’s overall regulations. While county standards allow school enrollment to hit 120 percent of a school’s capacity, Rockville’s threshold is only 110 percent, designed to limit the effects of overcrowding. Furthermore, while county standards average enrollments in a cluster of schools, so that one school’s enrollment might reach 150 percent of capacity if nearby schools are under-capacity, Rockville’s standards kick in for any school that reaches the 110 percent threshold.

Rockville City Councilmember Tom Moore is the main figure behind the recent push to change this portion of the ordinance. Moore has called the current 110 percent policy ineffective, tweeting in November that “Our schools & City deserve standards that work.”

Moore’s proposed changes are more lenient on overcrowding and are centered on aligning the Rockville policy with Montgomery County’s. They include raising the school capacity limit to 120 percent, averaging capacity by clusters rather than assessing capacity at each individual school, and changing the school capacity test period from two to five years.

There has been a long debate over the Rockville APFO, with changes being proposed almost every year. Recent controversy ignited again in November with Moore’s proposals. Two public hearings have been held so far this year, on January 5 and January 26, where opinions on both sides of the issue were heard.

Moore’s plan aims to attract much-needed school construction money and alleviate the ongoing tension between Rockville and Montgomery County. “You need to change the APFO ordinance or Rockville will be left in the dust by other urban town centers around the county,” former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow warned city councilmembers at the January 5 public hearing. Krasnow also described the current relationship between Rockville and the county as “antagonistic” and said that county officials feel that Rockville is “not willing to work with them.”

At the same hearing, the Senior Vice President of infill developer EYA, Aakash Thakkar, discussed the issue from a developer’s point of view. The proposed plan would allow for more residential development, benefitting developers in Rockville. Thakkar said that this policy would make developers like EYA more inclined to contribute money for schools and that the additional population brought in by the new residential developments would support local Rockville businesses and boost Rockville’s economy.

However, Moore’s ideas have also irritated many Rockville residents, including former Rockville mayor Larry Giammo, who pioneered the current ordinance in 2005. Giammo has argued that the APFO was never intended as a solution, only as a measure to prevent overcrowding from worsening. “Why propose to loosen controls which are keeping the problem from getting worse if you actually care about the problem?” wrote Giammo on his blog in November.

A major group against the changes is the Rockville Planning Commission. “It basically eliminates everything that the city had put into place to more accurately count school demand,” stated Commissioner Jack Leiderman about the proposed change. “The way this is constructed, you’ve got all this language in here that looks like we’re doing something, when in fact we’re not doing squat to protect the schools, or the citizens.”

“I would actually contend that it’s a violation of your constitutional rights to equal protection when it comes to public schools,” said Commissioner David Hill about measuring capacity by cluster at the January 5 public hearing.

Although the Rockville Mayor and City Council decided to delay a vote on Moore’s proposed changes until after a forum on county standards in March, the controversy over Rockville’s APFO is certain to continue.

Article by MoCo Student staff writer Grace Cheung

Image by MoCo Student staff artist Claudia Espinoza

About The MoCo Student

In 2012, Student Member of the Board of Education John Mannes created a countywide press network to help build a conduit to share fresh and relevant information written by youth to the wider Montgomery County student body.

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