Montgomery takes school construction fight to Annapolis -- Gazette.Net


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This story was corrected and updated at 5:15 p.m. March 7, 2014. An explanation follows the story.

Montgomery County’s fight for school construction funds took to Lawyers Mall in Annapolis on Thursday evening with a rally punctuated by some people wearing plastic yellow construction hats.

State lawmakers from the county, County Executive Isiah Leggett, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr and other county and school leaders joined about 200 parents, students and others in the school system community. They rallied for a bill that would direct money toward aging and overcrowded buildings.

Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville, chairwoman of Montgomery’s House delegation, proposed a bill to establish the Supplemental Public School Construction Matching Fund Program. Under the bill, counties with a triple-A bond rating and school systems with at least 100,000 students would be eligible for a share of up to $20 million each year to fund a portion of school construction projects or project debt.

Leggett told the crowd that the county has done “virtually everything” it can do on the local level and needs more state resources to address school construction needs.

“I know that we’re asking for something that is unique, but our challenge is unique,” he said. “Our challenge is one that we’re growing at the seams.”

Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville described problems he has experienced as a teacher at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring, including heating and air conditioning issues in his classroom and rain falling through the school’s ceiling.

“I’m tired of that,” he said. “Our kids deserve better.”

Del. Heather R. Mizeur, a gubernatorial candidate, said the push for more school money from the state is a three-county effort that also includes Prince George’s and Baltimore counties.

People are moving to Montgomery County because of its school system, said Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park.

“We deserve to have the classrooms that tell these children that we’re investing in them, that we believe in them, that we support them in their future,” she said.

Starr told the crowd that the leaders needed them to “keep up the fight.”

“We need you. We need every single one of you and all of your friends and all of your neighbors to make sure they have the buildings that they deserve,” he said.

While the rally was full of enthusiasm, county lawmakers have expressed doubt that the bill will pass this year.

Kaiser said in a previous interview with The Gazette that she and other county legislators were “not necessarily expecting it to pass.”

“We are realistic in the ways of the world,” Kaiser said. “Sometimes, you have to take more than a year to make your case on the need for a bill.”

Parents who attended the rally said they were encouraged by the speakers. But some also said they were prepared to continue fighting for money if the bill doesn’t pass.

Charisse Tang, who attended the rally with her family, said four of her five children attend Diamond Elementary School in Gaithersburg. She said the school needs an addition to the overcrowded building to accommodate its students.

“We worked really hard to drive our five children over here on a school night with [Maryland School Assessment] testing immediately the next morning because we’re desperate for funding,” Tang said.

Janette Gilman, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, said many state legislators “don’t get” Montgomery’s capacity issues, but people from the school system are ready to return to Annapolis if need be.

“I think people know they’ve got to come back if we don’t get it this year,” she said. “It’s not going away and more kids will be coming.”

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery — who did not attend the rally — said she thinks Montgomery County’s presence in Annapolis on Thursday could make a difference for the bill.

“I do think a loud voice and a show of force is going to be important in whether or not it does [pass],” she said.

lpowers@gazette.net

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that A. Mario Loiederman Middle School has portable classrooms.