School officials will ask Montgomery to change facility payment policy -- Gazette.Net







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Montgomery school officials will try again this year to see that the school system is given more flexibility when spending school construction dollars.

The Montgomery County Board of Education decided Thursday to ask the County Council next month to change its policy that restricts the way the school system spends money it gets from developers that build in crowded areas.

The board was following a recommendation from school staff and schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr, who said 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.

The County Council denied this request the last time the school system asked three years ago, and the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations were against the change.

Representatives from both groups said last week that they are still opposed to the change.

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.

Bruce Crispell, the school system’s director of long-range planning, told board members Thursday that the fees collected since the policy was instituted in 2008 have not been substantial.

About $163,000 was collected in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area and about $6,000 was collected in the Whitman area, he said.

Because the amounts collected through the fee are not enough to fund an entire project, the funds could sit in a cluster waiting for years before the project is fully funded, as there could be higher priority projects in more crowded clusters, said Larry Bowers, the school system’s chief operating officer.

Bowers said the main cause for school overcrowding in the last few years has not been new development, it has been resident turnover, bringing a younger population.

School board member Patricia O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda requested that the school system fully explain to the council in its testimony why the policy needs to change.