Montgomery school facility payments back up for debate -- Gazette.Net







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Three years ago, the Montgomery County Council denied a request from the school system that would give it more flexibility when spending school construction dollars. As the policy reopens for revisions this year, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr is asking again.

Starr will recommend to the Montgomery County Board of Education on Thursday that it ask the County Council to change its policy that restricts the way the school system spends money it gets from developers that build in crowded areas.

Starr wrote in a memo to the board that he wants the school system to be able to spend the money, known as school facility payments, “more broadly” in the county, and not just in the area, or school cluster, they are collected.

Some of those who were opposed to the change before still say they are not budging, including County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D) of Silver Spring.

Ervin said she hadn’t yet reviewed Starr’s recommendations, but it did not sound like a workable solution.

“It gives the school system full authority and full responsibility to determine in a subjective way where the funds get spent,” Ervin said. “I think that would be very difficult for the council to agree on that.”

The county collects the payments as a way to mitigate crowded schools — the payments go directly to the capital projects, which include school additions, renovations or new construction.

Currently, if a developer builds in an area — or school cluster — where schools are, on average, at more than 105 percent of their capacity but below 120 percent capacity, the developer must pay the county a certain amount per each child the development will house, ranging from $19,514 to $28,501 depending on if it is an elementary, middle or high school student.

The part of the policy that Starr wants to change states that the school system to use these funds to pay for projects in the cluster where the developer is building.

“The small amount of revenue collected in a given cluster is insufficient to construct a school capacity project,” he wrote in the memo.

Bruce Crispell, the school system’s director of long-range planning, said the amounts that are collected are not nearly enough of what it costs to build any kind of a project.

If the policy was revised, the school system would be able to better put first priorities first, he said.

Steve Augustino, co-chair of the school construction committee for the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, agreed with Ervin that the change would give the school system too much flexibility.

The policy, which used to be referred to as the Growth Policy and now is called the Subdivision Staging Policy, is up for review every four years.

The school board made the same request the last time the policy was up for revisions in 2009, Augustino said.

He said the council had not yet taken a formal position on the recommendations, but the group had opposed the request in 2009.

“The purpose of the schools facility payment is as a means to allieviate the overcrowding in the clusters above the triggers,” he said. “That is the purpose of the fund. We at MCC-PTA would oppose any policy that would divert the funds from this purpose.”

The school board will review Starr’s recommendations Thursday and has until Sept. 15 to make final recommendations to the county council.