Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist yesterday sharply criticized the county school board for suggesting that Blair High School might be closed, saying that the board's actions are having "a destructive effect on the community."
He called on the board to maintain Blair as a comprehensive high school and to take steps to reassure the community that the school will remain open. "The state and the community envisage the school as a comprehensive academic high school," he said, "and that is how Blair should be."
His comments came in the wake of a board vote Tuesday instructing the superintendent to investigate three possible options for Blair, the school with the highest enrollment of minority and foreign students in the county. Those include closing Blair, changing its attendance boundaries to help even out its racial balance, or inaugurating a special performing arts curriculum there in order to attract additional students.
School board member Marian Greenblatt immediately dismissed Gilchrist's comments as "politically motivated."
"The county executive should not be interfering in school board decisions," Greenblatt said. "We are aggressively closing schools, easing the county's fiscal burden. Gilchrist should be helping, not working against us."
Gilchrist's comments, his second public criticism of the school board in the past three weeks, came as part of his annual recommendation to the County Council on the board's proposed budget for additions and improvements to school facilities.
The final decision on what state funds to request and what local funds to allocate to school projects rests with the County Council. A subcommittee of the council reviewed Gilchrist's recommendations yesterday, agreeing with some and rejecting others.
The subcommittee agreed with Gilchrist's suggestion that the board drop a request for funds for a new auditorium at Woodward High, a project strongly supported by Greenblatt. He recommended that no decision be made on the new auditorium until after the board decides which school in the Woodward area it intends to close in response to declining student enrollment in the county.
But the subcommittee rejected Gilchrist's suggestion that the board resubmit a request for state funding for a long-planned renovation at Blair.
Those funds received preliminary approval last year and technically do not have to be included in this year's school board budget request. Gilchrist called on the board to include Blair on its budget list again "to indicate the importance the county places on the project and to alleviate community concerns."
"This is a time to reassure, not undermine, community confidence," Gilchrist said.
School Superintendent Edward Andrews, who has indicated that he does not favor closing Blair, said yesterday that leaving Blair on the budget list might reassure the community, but also might encourage the state to reconsider its prior endorsement of funds. The subcommittee agreed with Andrews' assessment.
The subcommittee also agreed with the board that Bradley Elementary and Washington Grove Elementary schools should be kept on the list for state funds.
Gilchrist had argued that Washington Grove should be removed from the list of state requests because, among other reasons, the state would be unlikely to approve money to renovate both that school and Gaithersburg Elementary (also on the list of state requests) since the schools are so close together.
Gilchrist wanted Bradley removed from the list because he feels it does not need immediate renovation. He argued that Radnor, another school slated to be closed, is in better condition. Greenblatt argued that Radnor is not in significantly better condition.
The funding requests now go to the full council, which must act by Dec. 31.