There's More to the Story of the Seven Locks School Decision

By Stephen N. Abrams
Thursday, June 1, 2006

The debate over how to ease overcrowding at Seven Locks Elementary School in Bethesda has ignited strong opinions among residents and public officials. In last week's Montgomery Extra, resident Jay M. Weinstein, a member of the Save Seven Locks School Coalition, shared his views and those of the coalition on the controversy.

Today, school board member Stephen N. Abrams (Rockville-Potomac) responds.

The Montgomery County Council and school officials recently worked out a compromise to address crowded schools in the Potomac area. The council rejected the school board's initial plan to move Seven Locks to a new site on Kendale Road and instead approved a plan that includes expanding the existing school.

Jay M. Weinstein's letter regarding the Seven Locks school fight [Montgomery Extra, May 25] certainly tells one side of the story. Unfortunately, it is neither complete nor accurate. It is an example of the kind of advocacy that was used to further an outcome promoted by divergent interests to 1) keep a small elementary school open; 2) keep out "undesirable lower-income people" by blocking the possibility of having affordable housing built on the Seven Locks site; and 3) satisfy some community members who prefer keeping open space at the expense of building on a county-purchased elementary school site.

The outcome was a political compromise that, while solving some important and immediate problems, left several elementary school communities wondering if they were misled by the Seven Locks advocates and some County Council members and staff about how soon relief would be coming to their schools.

Mr. Weinstein starts his tale in March 2004. At that time, I wasn't a member of the Board of Education. Had I been, I would have raised the same objections that I raised when I rejoined the board in December 2004 -- namely, that the Seven Locks site was not an appropriate site for affordable housing. I still believe that.

However, I also never believed that the Seven Locks site was an appropriate site for a 640-core-student school, a view shared by a majority of the Board of Education and a majority of the County Council.

The Seven Locks coalition lobbied the school board primarily for assurance that the school site would not be sold as surplus. But when that was achieved, the group changed its tune.

Mr. Weinstein's narrative omits the fact that the County Council and the Board of Education originally agreed in 2004 to build a new school at the Kendale Road site, a decision made after public debate and input. He also mischaracterizes how the issue was reopened. He attributes the reopening in part to "an unprecedented criticism of the school system and the Board of Education by the county's inspector general." What he failed to address is the validity of that report.

Mr. Weinstein owns an investment firm. I'm sure he realizes the inspector general's report regarding the cost of the two options was flawed.

Regardless of how one feels about the authority of the inspector general to review school matters, no one of any substance has defended the quality of the inspector general's work, particularly his review of the cost comparison between a new school on Kendale Road and a new school on the Seven Locks site.

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