Montgomery County and its state representatives will mount a “very hard and vigorous fight” for money to increase school capacity for an influx of students, said County Executive Isiah Leggett.
Between 2000 and 2012, Montgomery public school enrollment grew by 14,599 students — more than Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick and Baltimore counties combined, according to the county.
With nearly half of the county’s public schools projected to not have enough seats for students by the 2018-19 school year, Leggett, County Council members and state legislators highlighted the need for more school funds Thursday at Julius West Middle School in Rockville.
To help fund expansion projects, the county plans to request up to $20 million from the state, to go along with $40 million from the county, similar to a bill passed last year to provide funding for Baltimore City Public Schools.
The infusion of cash would let the county issue about $750 million in bonds to fund 56 construction projects at severely affected schools over the next five years, according to a county release.
“We’re bursting at the seams,” said Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendant Joshua Starr.
He said schools hold classes on auditorium stages and work with students in hallways. The county also uses 379 portable classrooms.
The county’s public schools are part of the attraction for many new residents, said County Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring.
But the schools can’t sustain their performance without additional resources, she said.
Montgomery has been “a victim of our own success” in pursuing policies that supported growth and development the past several decades, said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington.
If there’s no additional money for school expansions this year, it will impede growth in Montgomery and beyond, he said.
“Slowing Montgomery slows the growth of Maryland,” Madaleno said.
Solving the capacity crisis will be the county’s top priority in Annapolis for the next General Assembly session, which begins in January.
Del. Sheila Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said getting the increase might not be easy, but she believes that, ultimately, many large jurisdictions in the state will support it.
Madaleno, who serves on the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee and chairs the Education, Business and Administration Subcommittee, said it’s always a challenge to get something new and innovative approved.
While the Baltimore bill might be a template, he thinks everyone is “keeping an open mind” on how the issue can be addressed.
Everyone needs to stay focused on what the challenges to the school system could mean for the county, and the larger repercussions for the state if Montgomery’s economy starts to decline, he said.
But getting approval might be a heavy lift, even for one of the most powerful county delegations in the state.
“This will be a challenge, there’s no question,” Madaleno said.