By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2008
The redesigned $87 million Richard Montgomery High School, flagship of the Montgomery County school system, occupies a building that's as long as two football fields. So Moreno Carrasco, the principal, decided to purchase a golf cart to help him get around.
This has not gone over well with some in the school community.
Parent activists have seized on the golf cart as a symbol of administrative excess in a school system that is asking everyone else to endure cuts. Superintendent Jerry D. Weast has curtailed all but essential spending as the county seeks to close a $297 million budget deficit.
"It gets to the point where you have to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation," wrote Jeanne Taylor, a Silver Spring parent, on the e-mail list of the Parents Coalition of Montgomery County. "A teacher hiring freeze is on and kids are being denied services left and right -- but we can buy golf carts."
Reaction to Carrasco's purchase, first reported in November in the student newspaper the Tide, might be a simple matter of golf cart envy: An informal survey of school systems suggests he might be the only principal in the region with a cart.
"In case anyone wants to know, the golf cart will be used primarily to supervise outdoor athletic events," he said in a brief e-mail correspondence. He declined to say how much the vehicle cost. New golf carts typically cost from $5,000 to $10,000.
School system spokeswoman Kate Harrison said the cart was bought "without approval or funding from the central office."
The golf cart backlash might also speak to hard feelings toward the new school, which opened in January as the most expensive public campus in the county. Constructed to replace a dilapidated 1942 facility, the new Richard Montgomery High has interactive electronic wallboards and fixtures that resemble old-time street lamps. The school is in line to get the first artificial turf field in the school system, thanks to a partnership with a professional soccer franchise, which has prompted criticism from some of the same parents who are making an issue of the golf cart.
Carrasco told the school paper that he got the idea for the cart at an airport, where he saw carts shuttling passengers to their gates.
No one at the Rockville campus seems overly concerned.
"Honestly, it's a huge place," said Ann Marie Bocus, the mother of a junior. "I think these parents need to find better things to do with their lives than find little things to complain about."
Lelia Glass, 18, an editor of the Tide, recalls some students mocking the cart when it was first reported. "But I don't think anybody's up in arms about it," she said.
Glass said she has seen her principal riding the cart only once, on a central hallway known as Main Street. The campus occupies three floors, and Glass has yet to see whether the vehicle will fit into an elevator.