In the course of his 17 years as a teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools, Marc Elrich got an education that he has been able to apply to his more recent work as a Montgomery County Council member.
He saw children at Takoma Park’s Rolling Terrace Elementary School come to school hungry, and how much social problems such as income, economic stability and a lack of affordable housing could wreak havoc on their work in the classroom.
It taught him about the futility of schools trying to undo social issues, and the need for a holistic approach to solving policy problems.
Elrich is one of six Democrats running in the June 24 primary for four at-large spots on the ballot in the Nov. 4 general election. Four Republicans are also running, along with one Green Party member.
Before being elected to the council in 2006, Elrich served 19 years on the Takoma Park council, an experience he said also helped prepare him for his work on the council.
Municipal officials have much more individual contact with constituents than county officials, and Takoma Park residents expect the government to be responsive to needs and issues that come up, he said.
Elrich was the lead sponsor on a bill passed in November that will raise the county’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, an effort he said will help thousands of families in the county.
He listed the minimum wage and getting bus rapid transit included in the county’s highway master plan as two of his biggest accomplishments in the past year. During his time on the council, he points to a bill to restrict how close structures can be built to the C&O Canal towpath; a bill to prevent exploitation of domestic workers in the county and bills to protect the county’s urban tree canopy and require the replacement of trees along streets as some of the efforts he’s been most proud to support.
Going forward, the county needs to do a better job of planning its growth, particularly planning for public facilities such as roads, fire stations, rec centers and schools, he said.
The tests the county conducts to assess whether the areas around development will be able to handle the traffic they’re expected to generate aren’t working, and they need a way to get accurate assessments, he said.
They also need to find a way to make developers pay to fix the problems they create, he said.
The county also needs to think about how it will fund the expansion of its transit system, Elrich said.
In Virginia, transit projects are heavily funded by contributions from developers, he said.
Schools will be an increasingly important issue in the county, he said.
He said that while the council doesn’t have the primary responsibility for running the county schools, its members need to think about what they can do better and more effectively to help the schools.
“If the schools aren’t working, it’s our first problem,” Elrich said.