Prospective bill to increase county construction funding


Pablo Roa

Bells Mill ES is one of several schools the county has renovated in the last 10 years, but many more have to wait until there is enough funding to be renovated.

By Pablo Roa, Production Editor

In an effort to satisfy the county’s growing school construction needs, MCPS officials and Maryland state legislators are pursuing legislation that would increase the amount of funding the county gets each year for new school construction and modernization projects.

The bill, which is currently making its way through the Maryland state Senate, would require the state to allocate $20 million of additional construction funding for the county each year over the next 20 years. The proposed legislation is similar to a bill that helped Baltimore County get an increase in state aid for school construction in 2013.

“Montgomery County is asking the Governor-elect and the General Assembly to approve a revenue stream of $20 million per year that would allow the county to authorize the issuance of about $700 million in bonds to provide an immediate infusion of funds to begin work on shovel ready projects,” MCPS officials wrote in a document advocating for the passage of the bill. “This state solution would be based on the Baltimore model approved by the General Assembly two years ago where the state provided $20 million and the local government provided a $40 million investment to support the bond program.”

Additional funding for school construction is necessary due to the ever-growing student population in MCPS and the county’s aging school buildings. Enrollment in MCPS for the 2014-15 school year is at 154,230 students – an increase of nearly 3,000 from last year and an increase of 16,485 students since 2007. Not only is enrollment at an all-time high this year, but it is expected to continue to grow and reach around 165,000 students by the 2020-21 school year.

“MCPS is in a constant state of “catch up” to build enough permanent seats for the growing student population,” MCPS officials said in the document. “For the 2014–2015 school year, approximately 9,300 students are taking classes in 404 relocatable classrooms because the schools simply cannot accommodate all of the students. Even with all of the new construction and expansion projects over the last 10 years that have added 1,213 new classrooms, MCPS continues to be significantly behind in meeting our school space needs.”

If the legislation were to pass, it would immediately bring about drastic change to MCPS’ current school construction plans.

According to the document, the additional funding would allow MCPS to begin work on 22 projects that are already considered “shovel-ready” and 32 projects that the county hopes to begin in the near future. The proposed legislation would not only help MCPS teachers and students, but it would also help the county’s economy as a whole by creating a wealth of new jobs.

“The 22 projects would provide approximately 11,500 jobs over the next 3-4 years and the 32 projects in the pipeline would provide an additional 15,800 jobs over the next 6-8 year period,” officials said in the document. “It is also critically important for MCPS to receive an increase in the state’s general allocation of construction funds, given that MCPS makes up 17.5 percent of the state’s student population, but only receives 12.3 percent of the funding.”

Principal Joan Benz believes that increasing school construction funding is important for MCPS because having adequate schools that are both plentiful enough and modern enough to accommodate the student population is crucial for a strong education.

“We know that a good climate for learning is very important, and that means having school that don’t have dripping ceilings and that everything is working well,” Benz said. “Those characteristics make a big difference regarding children and them feeling comfortable in the school.”

While Benz acknowledges there is still work to be done and that passing legislation such as the bill being discussed in the Senate is difficult, she is pleased with the work county officials are doing to try to accelerate the process.

“I understand that [Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers] has already been in Annapolis being a great advocate for Montgomery County––getting that kind of funding that’ll enable us to have buildings that we’re proud of and that are safe for kids,” Benz said.

Although MCPS is considered one of the best school systems in the nation, county officials acknowledge that the overcapacity of schools and aging school buildings is a problem that the county and the state must fix if they want to maintain the school system’s reputation.

“MCPS is recognized as a national and state leader in public school education,” officials said in the document. “It must invest in schools to provide the classrooms students need to be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.”