School officials dispute Seven Locks report, saying it ignored decision process

School staff’s input wasn’t considered

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006

Superintendent Jerry D. Weast Tuesday blasted the county’s inspector general for his highly critical report on the Seven Locks Elementary School controversy, and his supporters on the County Council and the school board ripped the report as ‘‘totally useless” and ‘‘bereft of merit or credibility.”

In the report issued last week, Thomas J. Dagley accused Weast of misleading the school board about community support for relocating the school to Kendale Road. He also said the board did not present to the council two less costly options to keep the school at its current site in Potomac.

Dagley said Weast misstated support for moving the site of the school when he told the board that the Seven Locks PTA proposed or supported a replacement school.

Weast disputed that finding in a memo Tuesday to the county school board. He accused Dagley of ignoring information provided by school staff that challenged his conclusions.

‘‘The report last week by the inspector general omits key facts concerning the replacement project for Seven Locks Elementary School, including several actions taken by the Board of Education and County Council in the months and years leading to decisions in 2004,” Weast wrote.

Read both reports
The inspector general’s report may be read at the county Web site. Click on ‘‘Services,” then on ‘‘Inspector General.”
The school system’s rebuttal may be found at the school system's site. Click on ‘‘News.”
The memo includes a rebuttal from the school system’s chief operating officer and correspondence between school and county officials and staff that Weast used to challenge the report’s finding that he misled the council.

‘‘The inspector general was provided — but did not reference — correspondence by the executive director of the state’s [Interagency Committee on School Construction] that the methodology used to complete the cost comparison for the Seven Locks Elementary School project is a recognized practice to evaluate construction budgets,” COO Larry A. Bowers said in a memo Monday to Weast.

Bowers cites affidavits signed by former planning director Joseph J. Lavorgna, his successor Bruce Crispell and real estate team leader Janice M. Turpin, detailing a Jan. 20, 2004, meeting with Rosanne Hurwitz, an area vice president for the county council of PTAs.

All three said Hurwitz told them that a replacement school on Kendale Road was the best way to provide a larger, modernized Seven Locks that could relieve overcrowding at Potomac Elementary School.

According to the audit report, Hurwitz, who is not named in the report, told Dagley that the statements attributed to her at the Jan. 20 meeting were ‘‘factually incorrect.”

Bowers said Dagley interviewed Crispell and Turpin, but did include what they told him in the audit report. He did not interview Lavorgna, Bowers said.

Dagley said his office interviewed people who filed complaints about the Seven Locks project in early 2005.

‘‘We knew the MCPS position from the beginning of the audit,” he said Tuesday. ‘‘What we were trying to do was verify that position with the community, which we were unable to do.”

The school system’s response also included letters from County Councilmen Michael L. Subin (D-At large) of Gaithersburg and Steven A. Silverman (D-At large) of Silver Spring, who was president of the council in 2004 when the council approved the replacement school.

‘‘The inspector general’s report is totally useless,” Subin said in a statement included with Weast’s memo.

Both men said they had not been misled by school officials.

‘‘That’s hogwash,” Subin said in his statement.

In an interview last week, Subin, who heads the council’s Education Committee, called the audit’s findings ‘‘absolutely inadequate,” saying they ignored overcrowding at Potomac Elementary and safety concerns.

In May 2004, the council decided to move the school to Kendale Road after determining that heavy traffic on Seven Locks Road made it unsafe to keep students on that site, he said.

‘‘My question is basically going to be why wasn’t the history of this looked at and why are you looking at options to a plan that had been dismissed?” Subin said. ‘‘We would’ve looked at options had the decision be made to stay on the site. It wasn’t even a close call. It was not in the best interest of the kids to stay on the site. Period.”

Dagley said his office considered enrollment projections for Potomac Elementary that were made between 2001 and 2004, but not included in the audit report.

‘‘The OIG would be in complete agreement that enrollment projections and other factors that would determine why one option would be preferred over the other is important along with the financial considerations ...,” he said.

But that information — on enrollment, safety issues and the project’s fiscal impact — was not presented to the council regarding the option of rebuilding on the school’s current site, which was identified by the architect in January 2002 as the most preferable option, Dagley said.

Sharon W. Cox, who was school board president in 2004, said the board sided with ‘‘the arguments that supported the children’s best interest. It isn’t necessarily who says what. It’s what they say.”

Cox (At large) of Germantown said she was never interviewed by the inspector general’s office.

‘‘I read the inspector general’s report ...and I came to the conclusion that the report itself and its authors are bereft of either merit or credibility,” she said in statement accompanying Weast’s memo. ‘‘...I was never misled — at least not until I read the inspector general’s report.”

‘‘It’s hard to understand how people were misled when they say they weren’t misled,” said Weast, speaking about the report for the first time on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, County Councilman Howard A. Denis (R-Dist. 1) of Chevy Chase plans to introduce a budget amendment Tuesday to rebuild Seven Locks Elementary at its existing location.

The council’s Education and Management and Fiscal Policy committees will meet at 4:30 p.m. March 2 to discuss the audit report.

Marilyn J. Praisner, who chairs the MFP Committee, said the council could examine several issues raised by Dagley’s report, including how the school system estimates projects, how it contracts with architects and how it presents options to the board and council.

‘‘There’s admittedly money that has been spent,” Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton said last week. ‘‘But there’s still an opportunity to settle those issues.”