Commission Chair Don Hadley reiterated his previous remarks that the recent legal opinion handed down by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler suggests the Mayor and Council lack the authority to change the APFS school standards. Hadley said they and the commission "need to find out what the rules of the road are," before changing the standards. Commissioner John Tyner said the recommendations of the city's APFO Committee a couple of years back - to implement no changes to the Rockville school standards - were forwarded by the Planning Commission to the Mayor and Council. "My opinion has not changed on that," he added.
There was a sense among some commissioners that something fishy is going on, and that the proposed changes are being pushed behind the scenes for an unstated purpose. "I'm fearful something non-transparent is going on that should be made transparent," Commissioner David Hill said. Commissioner Jack Leiderman said the demand for changes is certainly not coming from the city's residents. "Whenever there has been a proposal to weaken the APFO, this room has been filled to capacity" with citizens opposing the change, Leiderman noted. He said the January 5 date for the APFO public hearing - during holiday vacations - appeared to have been "frankly, chosen to minimize" public input.
Hill said he welcomed a "vibrant public debate" on school standards, but agreed that January 5 was not particularly conducive to having one. He reiterated Tyner's point that the commission had already spoken to the school matter by forwarding the committee report to the Mayor and Council. "I am not ready to change" school standards, Hill said. He said other jurisdictions in the state have used Rockville's 2005 APFO standards as a model, and therefore, the authority issue is very appropriate for Gansler to address at this juncture. Commissioner Anne Goodman concurred that the city should get a legal opinion from Gansler before acting on the APFS. "We have a legal uncertainty," Hadley said. "It leaves us in a very tenuous position."
Leiderman suggested the commission go on the public record regarding the controversial January 5 public hearing, and send a formal letter to the Mayor and Council. Hill said he agreed "it's the Planning Commission's place to make a recommendation."
Hill prepared language for a commission resolution that would reiterate the body's support of the 2012 APFO committee recommendations. He said they should emphasize to the Mayor and Council that those recommendations were "the product of a citizen committee that spent many hours" studying the complex issues related to adequate public facilities. Leiderman argued the commission should add one element missing from the committee recommendations, namely, to affirm that 110% of capacity is the maximum allowable in a particular school. He also said that passing the proposed changes would not be a mere alteration of regulations, but a de facto repeal of the APFO - an act that would require a text amendment. Leiderman warned that the county has even considered raising its weaker standard to a higher level of acceptable overcrowding - which would leave Rockville's schools well over the 120% county standard.
Ultimately, the commissioners came to a unanimous recommendation that the Mayor and Council should not change school standards at this time.
Meanwhile, former mayor Larry Giammo posted a second article on his blog regarding the APFO controversy. Giammo was mayor when the city passed the original ordinance, which several commissioners argued last night is clearly working to prevent further school overcrowding. This latest post is devoted to debunking the stated rationales for loosening school standards in Rockville.