We who live in a speck of dust known as Twinbrook want to tell this broad, WE ARE HERE, WE ARE HERE, WE ARE HERE, and to try to keep you from throwing us into the boiling Beezle-Nut Oil. Like the Whos in Who-ville, we are here, we are aware and we are concerned."
Twinbrook Elementary School PTA vice president Diane Wheeler borrowed a few lines and cartoon characters from the Dr. Seuss book, "Horton Hears a Who," to plead for Edwin W. Broome Middle School in Rockville before the Montgomery County School board last week.
Wheeler's children, and others who attend Broome would have to travel to Julius West Middle School or Earl B. Wood Junior High School next fall if the school board votes May 26 to include Broome among three schools to be closed next month.
After a respite of a year and a half, school closings are again being considered by the Board of Education. Escalating operating costs forced the decision on the board members this spring, preempting a still-unfinished master plan for school facilities that would outline school closings for the next 15 years. That plan will name the schools to be closed in the first five years, and will set a number of schools to be closed, and procedures for choosing them, for the following years.
Board members voted to close three junior high schools this June, to save $923,000. Superintendent Edward Andrews recommended closing Broome, Argyle and Leland junior highs. School board members, responding to the immediate protests of outraged parents, added Colonel E. Brooke Lee and Western Junior highs to the recommendations, saying those schools, by location and size, could be considered as alternatives to Argyle and Leland. The board did not add an alternative to Broome, giving the community the impression the board intends to follow the superintendent's recommendation to close the school.
The last closing decisions were made in December 1979, when two junior highs and four elementary schools were ordered shut, bringing to 31 the number of schools closed since 1973. Overall enrollment has dwindled from a high of 126,000 in 1972 to 98,000 this year.
The school board had hoped to avoid the divisive battles with communities that marked past closure decisions by standardizing a procedure for selecting which schools to close. The board hoped to find a formula that required only plugging in data in order to arrive at a decision that was uncontestable. The 15-year master plan was to take the uncertainty out of school planning.
The drafting of the master plan took longer than expected, however, and was not finished by January, then March and then April completion dates. It is now supposed to be completed between May 21 and 26, before the board acts on the closings. The school board decided earlier this year it could wait no longer, and deleted $923,403 from next year's operating budget as savings to be realized by closing three junior highs.
The scene the board had hoped to avoid by adopting the master plan became reality last week, when more than 600 Leland Junior High supporters jammed the Educational Services Center auditorium in Rockville. They came with all manner of signs, buttons, balloons, banners and posters. "Leland, Leland, Leland!" they shouted at the close of the public hearing. Like a massive cheering section at a basketball game.
None of the communities believes its school should be closed and, judging by the testimony before the board, school supporters put little faith in the selection criteria Superintendent Edward Andrews used to back up his recommendations. Andrews cited projected enrollment, utilization and condition of the buildings, and the receiving high schools for the junior high students.
Andrews said Leland should be closed because it needed renovation. Parents disagreed.
"Talking about $3.5 million in renovations for a 17-year-old school is downright ridiculous and absurd," said Jeffrey Benson. "Fix the plaster, fix the lights, fix the roof, and knock off the nonsense."
One Leland student told the school board she had discussed the matter with her friends and they agreed that they did not need an underground parking garage. Andrews said the garage was recommended in an earlier consultant's report and was not part of his recommendation. The renovations for the 17-year-old building included replacement of ceilings, floors and lights. "Leland is in need of modernization as soon as possible," Andrews said.
School board member Marian Greenblatt called some of the statements "inflammatory," and was booed by some in the crowd when she said, "We are very aware that this is an active community, running to the courts or the federal government for any concerns.
"What guarantee do we have that you will not come back in five years and say that we are housing students in a substandard building?"
"When you find something you can guarantee us, then we'll guarantee you," responded PTA president Vicki Rafel to thunderous applause.
The community of the Rosemary Hills Cluster -- a group of schools reorganized to reduce minority enrollment at Rosemary Hills Elementary School -- protested the closing of Leland because it meant west Silver Spring children would have to travel an additional five miles to school.
"Since 1975, the same students and their families, most of them minorities, have experienced repeated displacement," said Nigel Scott. As a result, "the minority community has long bus rides, no extracurricular activities and fewer parent-teacher consultations."
Leland has 185 minority students, or 27.5 percent of its student body. Most of them are blacks.
About 500 persons attended the Argyle and Broome hearing last week, and a public hearing on Western and Lee is set for Wednesday.
The Argyle community came to the hearing armed with data on the housing situation and predicted a population increase in the area. The superintendent said although Argyle's building was in satisfactory condition and the attendance pattern was not a problem because all Argyle students went on to Kennedy High School, his primary reason for selecting Argyle for closure was under-enrollment. The seventh and eighth grades have a total of 431 students and the minimum for a two-grade school has been set at 500. The ninth grade will become part of John F. Kennedy High School starting next fall.
"The figures for projected enrollment do not accurately reflect the growth potential in the Argyle area," argued the Argyle PTSA in a report presented at the hearing. "As of this writing, there are 655 housing units under construction. Plans have been approved for another 1,200 units. At the Park and Planning Commission's yield factor of .278 junior high students per unit, the present construction would increase Argyle's population by 180 students within the next two years."