Montgomery County leaders on Thursday said getting state money for a much-needed school building program would be their top priority in the 2014 General Assembly.
County officials, MCPS officials, state delegates and state senators gathered at a middle school in Rockville to ask the state for a similar bill passed earlier this year for Baltimore City Public Schools.
The county wants $20 million from the state to go with $40 million from the county to support $750 million in construction bonds to fund new school projects over the next five years. County Executive Isiah Leggett said the county would be able to construct 56 projects to add capacity for a school system that has grown by 14,599 students since 2000.
That’s more than the growth of school systems in Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick and Baltimore Counties combined.
“We are known nationally for our school system, which contributes directly to our ability to attract and retain an educated workforce, business and industry,” Leggett said, according to a prepared release. “To maintain the county’s role as a key economic engine of the State of Maryland, we cannot allow our double-digit school enrollment increases — the highest in the State — to jeopardize our attractiveness as a place to work and live.”
MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and Council President Nancy Navarro referred to the system’s growing population as a “capacity crisis.” Nearly half of MCPS schools are projected to be over-capacity by the 2018-2019 school year. The system is expected to grown by another 14,000 students in the next six years.
“The Montgomery County delegation unanimously supported last year’s legislation to assist Baltimore City schools because of their unique situation, but now Montgomery County is in the midst of its own unique crisis that threatens to jeopardize our ability to provide an economic boost to other jurisdictions,” District 18 State Sen. Rich Madaleno said. “We need help now, before the County and the state suffer economically.”
District 20 State Sen. Jamie Raskin, who serves as chairman of the county’s Senate Delegation, compared the upcoming effort to secure the funding in Annapolis to last year’s push for the gas tax hike to fund transportation projects.
“We are going to Annapolis in January determined to invest in the capacity and modernization needs of our County schools, which are overflowing with students,” Raskin said. “To keep producing the number one schools in the country, we need to have the number one infrastructure for the learning and teaching environment.”
On Monday, Starr released his recommended five-year, $1.55 billion capital budget, which he said was about $700 million less than what would be needed to address all the system’s capacity needs. A Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School addition was included. The school is over capacity now and is expected to surpass 2,000 students by 2016.
The Baltimore City Public Schools Construction and Revitalization Act of 2013 will support $1 billion in construction bonds over 10 years, overseen by the Maryland Stadium Authority.