Starr proposes $1.55 billion capital improvements program budget -- Gazette.Net


Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said he prioritized adding classroom space in his newly proposed $1.55 billion Capital Improvements Program for fiscal years 2015 to 2020.

“We are bursting at the seams,” he said Monday at Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring, which is at maximum capacity.

Starr said the school system needs $2.2 billion to cover all of its capital improvement needs for the six-year period. He is proposing a $1.55 billion program, he said, because the county is currently facing “fiscal restraints” and the school system is not getting the funding it deserves from the state.

The proposed program is about $184 million higher than the current program, which covers fiscal years 2013 to 2018.

Starr said the program addresses the school system’s ongoing, significant enrollment growth with a recommendation for 14 new classroom addition projects. The plan also maintains schedules for other, previously approved capacity projects, including five new schools.

Since 2007, he said, the school system has grown by 14,000 students; another 11,000 are expected over the next six years.

Even if the program were fully funded, Starr said, 13 school clusters are expected to be over capacity in fiscal 2020. Fifteen school clusters in the system are over capacity this fiscal year.

Most of the school system’s growth has occurred in elementary schools, he said.

Of the 14 classroom addition projects, 12 are proposed for elementary schools.

Starr recommended five addition projects at elementary schools in the Downcounty Consortium, an area that he said has faced the county’s largest growth in the last six years.

“While the growth is most dramatic in the DCC, we’re also seeing enormous elementary enrollment growth across the district,” he said.

The downcounty elementary schools with planned addition projects include: Brookhaven, Glen Haven, Kemp Mill, Sargent Shriver and Highland.

The other schools where addition projects are planned include Ashburton, Lucy V. Barnsley, Burtonsville, Diamond, Kensington-Parkwood, Christa McAuliffe and Judith Resnik elementary schools; North Bethesda Middle School; and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Other previously approved elementary- and secondary-school capacity projects are scheduled to stay on target in the program. The projects include classroom additions; new elementary schools to serve the Clarksburg, Northwest and Richard Montgomery clusters; and new middle schools to serve the Clarksburg/Damascus and Bethesda-Chevy Chase clusters.

About $725 million — or about 47 percent — is recommended for “revitalizations/expansions.”

“The schools built in the ’60s and ’70s, the ones we’re replacing now, were not built to last,” Starr said. “We see that across the county and renovating them is not cost efficient.”

Starr said the recommended plan includes more than two dozen such projects, adding about 118 classrooms throughout the system.

The plan, however, pushes back the timeline of 20 of those projects.

Elementary school projects would see a one-year delay. Middle and high school projects would see a two-year delay.

“We know that so many of our school communities are impacted by the delay,” Starr said. “They’ve been waiting for many years for their aging schools to be replaced.”

The plan proposes that six revitalization/expansion projects continue with their current completion dates. They include Bel Pre, Candlewood and Rock Creed Forest elementary schools; Wheaton and Seneca Valley high schools; and the Thomas Edison High School of Technology.

If the state provides more funding, Starr said, it may be possible for some projects to return to their original schedule.

The recommended program also directs about $283 million toward systemic projects that include security upgrades and HVAC, roof and door replacements.

Starr said it’s “starting to show” that the school system has not put budgeted enough in recent years for infrastructure needs.

“We’ve been skimping on that because we’ve had to fund so many other things,” he said.

Starr said he is asking for an increase of $28 million in both fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2016 to put toward the school system’s backlog of HVAC replacement projects. He added that further investments will need to be made “down the road.”

About $155 million was recommended for technology modernization projects such as new computers.

The county school board is scheduled hold a work session on the plan Nov. 7 and two public hearings on Nov. 11 and 14 before it is expected to approve Starr’s request Nov. 18.

The program request then moves to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the County Council.

School board President Christopher S. Barclay said the work session will mark a chance for the board to start asking questions.

“Capacity is the biggest issue that we have,” Barclay said. “We have got to figure out how to address this.”

Highland Elementary Principal Scott Steffan said the addition planned for his school in the proposed program hopefully will enable the school to accommodate its students without needing to add portable classrooms.

“I don’t have an open space anywhere. We’ve really felt the impact (of enrollment growth) this year,” he said. “For us to have the addition is tremendous.”

Lynne Harris — vice president for legislation for the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations — said her son attends Highland View Elementary School in Silver Spring, which is scheduled to undergo an expansion project but at an undetermined time.

While she is disappointed as a Highland View parent that her school will not see construction soon, she said, she sees that there are needs at every school and the school system’s capital budget requires “tough choices.”

Harris said the school system needs state funds more proportionate to the number of students it serves.

Montgomery County students are getting a good education, Harris said, but the school system has to figure out where to put the growing number of students.

“What are we going to do?” she said. “Put them on the roof?”