Montgomery County legislators know a daunting task lies ahead, as they hope to convince their colleagues around the state that the affluent county needs up to $20 million in state money to ease its problems with crowded schools.
But they think they can make a persuasive case based on numbers showing the county’s growth.
Sen. Nancy King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village, vice chairwoman of the county’s Senate delegation, said it won’t be easy, but they need to be smart about how they make the case.
“I think it’s doable. We just need to present the information right,” King said.
The delegation plans to seek up to $20 million from the state to go along with $40 million from the county, similar to a package the General Assembly approved for Baltimore’s public schools in its last session.
But Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick said Baltimore was given special attention because its schools were in such bad shape.
“Fair or not, [Montgomery is] going to have a tougher case to make,” he said.
If the legislature agrees with Montgomery’s request, the money would let the county issue about $750 million in bonds to pay for 56 construction projects at crowded schools during the next five years.
From 2007 to 2013, Montgomery County Public Schools added 13,544 students, including 12,000 at the elementary school level, school board President Christopher S. Barclay told delegation members at a Nov. 12 meeting for them and the County Council at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown.
From 2000 to 2012, Montgomery public school enrollment grew more than in Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick and Baltimore counties combined, according to numbers provided by the county.
Projections call for nearly 11,000 more students by 2019, Barclay said.
No other county comes close to Montgomery’s growth, he said.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to tell that story to your colleagues,” he told the assembled legislators.
Many of the county’s schools were built in the 1950s and ’60s, when an elementary school was usually built for 250 to 300 students, Larry Bowers, chief operating officer for the school district, told them.
Now, elementary schools are built to accommodate about 740 students, he said.
Bowers said the county has about 400 temporary classrooms, with 90 percent of them at elementary schools.
Several lawmakers said convincing lawmakers from other parts of Maryland who may resent the amount of money Montgomery gets from the state may be tough.
Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville discussed the need for the delegation to “hone the messaging” in appealing to colleagues.
Rather than discuss how many students qualify for free and reduced meals, Montgomery legislators should talk about how many students’ parents have trouble putting food on the table, he said.
Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, chairman of the county’s Senate delegation, said he believes thoughtful colleagues will understand that the growth has put Montgomery in a drastically different situation.
The delegation unanimously supported the plan for Baltimore because the city needed it to help bring people back to the city, Raskin said.
Montgomery has the opposite problem, trying to deal with a rapidly growing school population, he said.
While Young understands Montgomery asking for the money, he said there are plenty of school needs around the state, including several in Frederick County.
“I don’t think their problem is unusual,” he said of Montgomery.
Rural legislators will say Montgomery doesn’t need the help and can take care of the problem itself, he said.
Young, who represents parts of Frederick and Washington counties, said he’s likely more sympathetic to Montgomery’s problem than many legislators from more rural parts of the state.
There’s a feeling in Annapolis that rural areas are paying fees and taxes to pay for the Purple Line and other transportation projects in metropolitan areas, he said.
For instance, Frederick County has been pushing for years to have Metro’s Red Line extended north from Shady Grove, but without results, he said.
But he said the size of Montgomery’s delegation means that if it can get lawmakers from Baltimore and Prince George’s County to go along, the measure will almost certainly pass.
Sen. Richard Colburn (R-Dist. 37) of Cambridge, a member of the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee, said in an email Thursday that other school projects may affect Montgomery’s request.
“I think the response from other legislators will be positive if the school construction needs in their respective counties are met,” Colburn wrote. “For example Dorchester County is asking for monies to fix and replace two roofs, [at] Hurlock Elementary and Cambridge South Dorchester High Schools. The county is also looking for permission from the [Interagency Committee on School Construction] to begin the planning process for new North Dorchester High School. Whatever we give Montgomery should not encumber other county requests either this year or in years to come.”