Superintendent Joshua Starr issued a memo to the Board of Education on Tuesday, laying out his proposal to redo the site selection for the controversial middle school planned for Rock Creek Hills Park.
In the memo, Starr calls for changes to the process, including the presence of an external facilitator, the involvement of homeowners associations and outreach to county government.
The Board of Education will decide whether to rescind its initial site selection and go with Starr's recommendation at its meeting Nov. 17.
Starr's process would expand the scope of the site-selection advisory committee, reaching out to PTA members, neighbors, and representatives from the County Council, County Executive and Park and Planning Commission.
“The site-selection process for this school should be done in a transparent way that involves a wide array of stakeholders,” Starr said in a statement. “We know that there are not very many appropriate and available sites for a school. This is a complex problem, and it will take the best thinking of our community to complete this work so that we can move forward with a plan to meet our students’ needs.”
Under Starr's plan, the schools would recruit committee members in December, starting the process in January and proposing a recommended site to the Board by March.
The committee would start with the 10 sites proposed in April, including Rock Creek Hills Park, and members would be invited to propose additional sites at the first meeting. After that, the committee would grade each site according to criteria like location, size, availability and cost. The highest-rated site would be recommended to the Board.
The school's first site-selection process violated the state's Open Meetings Act, and Starr wrote that the new process will conform to all of the act's requirements, including keeping minutes of closed sessions.
If any of the proposed sites is private property, the committee will discuss its purchase in closed session in order to preserve MCPS's ability to negotiate the price, Starr wrote. This process is permitted under the Open Meetings Act, he said.
Starr has said that redoing the site selection will not delay the school's planned open date of August 2017. The school is needed to relieve overcrowding at Westland Middle School, Starr has said, and MCPS's projected enrollment growth will require a new facility by then.
The memo comes after Starr announced last week his desire to start anew on the site selection for the second Bethesda-Chevy Chase middle school. He cited backlash from the community and a pending legal issue in his recommendation for a new site-selection process.
Since the Board chose the Rock Creek Hills site in April, members of the community have accused the schools of ignoring transparency and failing to engage residents. Opponents of the school say the park site is too small and too steep to house an adequate school.
After Starr's initial recommendation to restart the process, neighbors have expressed optimism that they'll be heard this time around. Jim Pekar, who blogs at SaveRockCreekHillsPark.org, has said he is confident the new committee will find a site more suitable than the park.