A group of Montgomery County parents charged yesterday that school board member Marian L. Greenblatt has proposed elementary school boundary changes that could prevent the closing of a school where one of her children is currently enrolled while jeopoardizing the future of a larger, "healthier" school two miles away.
The parents said Greenblatt's boundary recommendations, which are separate from the county's overall school closing plan, amount to "an assassination" of the Jackson Road school and a bolstering of the Cresthaven school, where Greenblatt has a child in the third grade.
At a public hearing, they urged Greenblatt to abstain from voting on the proposal "to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest." One parent carried a placard that read, "Greenblatt should represent all citizens, not just her neighborhood."
Board President Carol F. Wallace, who lives near Jackson Road, has disqualified herself from votes involving her children's schools and in one case where her husband's business could have been affected by a school closing. But Greenblatt appears to have no such plans.
"It's a cheap shot," Greenblatt said of the accusations against her. She told the parents that school board members are "elected countywide and represent the entire county" and should be trusted for their ability to "bite the bullet and make difficult decisions without being accused of conflict of interest."
Privately she admonished one parent for "the tone" of the charges levelled against her. "I don't like that," she said.
The boundary dispute, which comes as the countywide debate over school closings is reaching its peak, reflects a larger and older rivalry between Jackson Road and Cresthaven, two predominantly white Silver Spring schools that have been faced in the past five years with absorbing a number of minority students from other neighborhoods.
"The true reason for the boundary change is to protect at all costs a community to the south Cresthaven -- one insulated from the realities of changing enrollment and a changing population . . . a community in essence stealing pupils from its neighboring schools in order to survive," said Karen Tang, a Jackson Road parent.
Although Jackson Road was untouched in the superintendent's final plan for school closings, Greenblatt proposed at a board meeting last month that 115 of its students be transferred out and that 97 of them go to Cresthaven, where enrollment is perilously close to the 200-student level that could justify closing the school in the future.
Her rationale for such a move was that it would provide school "stabilization" in the upper New Hampshire Avenue area that feeds students into Springbrook High School.
Greenblatt and board member Eleanor Zappone, who also lives near Cresthaven, insist the school must stay open because other closings in the surrounding area have left the neighborhood with too few schools.
"We have to keep one of the schools in the southern tier a strong and stable school," Zappone said earlier this week. "Otherwise there will be too big a gap for students to travel from that area ."
But parents from Jackson Road say that the boundary change will so weaken their school that it could be the first candidate for closure in the New Hampshire Avenue corridor, even though it is the largest.
Jackson Road parents also point out that five years ago many low-income students from apartments in the area wound up at Jackson Road because Cresthaven was reluctant to take them after the closing of Hillandale and Burnt Mills elementary schools. Now some of those students are faced with the prospect of going to a third elementary school, Cresthaven, if the boundaries are changed. Parents say this is hardly an argument for "stabilization."
Finally, Jackson Road parents say a plan for closing Brookview Elementary School last year proposed sending to Cresthaven children from the predominantly white, single-family homes around Brookview. Children from the lower income, higher minority neighborhoods to the south were to go to Jackson Road. Although the plan was scrapped, some parents are still suspicious of Cresthaven's apparent success in controlling its enrollment patterns.
"To this day they Cresthaven don't have any apartment kids," says Elizabeth McCann, president of the Jackson Road Parent-Teachers Association. "Some people are beginning to call it Cresthaven private school."