A $4.2 billion spending plan proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett on Tuesday cuts the county schools system’s construction budget and puts an important Rockville school project on hold.
The cuts include a two-year delay in building a new elementary school in the Richard Montgomery cluster at the former Hungerford Park Elementary School site.
The budget proposal cites a $3.45 million cost saving from the delay, which would buy the county time to relocate the Children’s Resource Center from the West Edmonston Drive site to the former Broome School on Twinbrook Parkway without first finding a temporary home for the center.
Leggett’s six-year plan covers fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, through fiscal 2018.
The proposal includes $1.36 billion for Montgomery County Public Schools—a 3 percent cut to the previous biennial plan. It is $134 million less than requested by the county school board.
“It’s not affordable,” Leggett (D) said of the school system’s budget request, The Gazette reported. “I understand their desire and the request for that, but we cannot fund the system on an unsustainable level. We are not going to build more schools at a rate that we can no longer afford.”
The cuts are the first to the school consturction budget in more than 20 years, The Washington Examiner reported. It comes as the school system’s enrollment grew to an all-time high of 146,500 students in 200 schools this school year.
Leggett’s plan calls for funding for two new elementary schools, one new middle school and classroom additions at six elementary schools and one middle school.
Click the PDF at the right of this article for more details on the plan.
The plan calls for pushing back, by one year, nearly all middle school modernization projects and all high school modernization projects, including at Wheaton High School and Thomas Edison High School of Technology. The school board had voted to keep the modernization on schedule. Leggett's also recommended reducing money for technology modernization.
Funds have also been included to support social services centers at several schools. Most notably for Rockville are a wellness center at Gaithersburg High School—which serves students from King Farm, and a Linkages to Learning Center at Maryvale Elementary School.
“We know the county executive had to make some very difficult decisions in developing this recommendation and we appreciate his continued dedication to the capital needs of MCPS,” county school board President Shirley Brandman said in a news release from the county school system. “However, we are disappointed that our [capital improvement program] request has been reduced. If approved, the county executive's recommendation will delay many important projects and infrastructure improvements."
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) recently proposed a $350 million increase to state aid for school construction. Brandman (At large) of Bethesda said she hopes that Montgomery County will get more than the $40 million it anticipates from the state in fiscal 2013.
So far, the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction has recommended $24 million for county schools. The balance of the state aid will be decided by the state’s Board of Public Works after the General Assembly approves the fiscal 2013 state budget in April.
“I know the county and the state both care deeply about education and the serious facility needs of our public schools,” Brandman said in the news release. “We will work with the governor, the legislature and county leaders to make sure all MCPS students have a place where they can learn, grow and thrive.”
The budget plan assumes the county will receive $93.1 million in state aid, including $17.3 million for addressing growing enrollment at Montgomery College.
The college’s $8 million capital budget increase is due in part to several construction projects on its Rockville campus, Leggett told The Washington Post.
The plan continues funding for the renovation of the Science East Building and leverages state money for the renovation of the 40-year-old Science West Building.
It also calls for keeping the college’s Rockville Student Services Center on schedule and for completion of the college’s Rockville Science Center in fiscal 2013 and of a tennis court and parking lot relocation in fiscal 2014.
The proposal does not fund a $34.2 million request by the college to build a parking garage on the Rockville campus, due in part to the project not being eligible for state aid.
The plan also calls for $20.1 million for a garage at the Universities at Shady Grove. The garage is scheduled to be completed in fiscal 2017. Its construction is dependent on state aid to construct a Biomedical Sciences/Engineering building on a surface parking lot on the campus.
The County Council will hold public hearings on the six-year plan on Feb. 7-9, beginning at 7 p.m. each night at the Stella B. Werner Council Office Building. The Feb. 9 hearing will focus on the school construction proposal.
The County Council is expected to approve the plan in late May.