The three Maryland jurisdictions with the most population — Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore counties — are calling on state lawmakers for money to build and renovate schools.
Montgomery’s priority this session is establishing a steady, predictable stream of state money to leverage borrowing for school construction.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said Montgomery’s enrollment grows annually by about 2,000 students, the equivalent of one high school. In 2013, Montgomery County Public Schools enrolled 151,289 students, up from 148,779 students in 2012.
“We are seeing unprecedented growth that we alone cannot resolve,” Leggett said. “We cannot wait.”
To build one high school costs Montgomery more than $100 million, he said.
Its overall need is as high as $600 million to $700 million in a six-year period, he said.
Leggett will release his six-year capital improvements program Wednesday.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Gov. Martin O’Malley’s fiscal 2015 capital budget, which also comes out Wednesday, includes $627 million for education.
Exactly how much the “big three” counties seek from the state remains to be seen, but Leggett said Montgomery will put up money of its own to match.
“We commit an awful lot already on construction dollars, and we’re willing to commit even more, but our commitment can only be leveraged so far and to leverage that you need ongoing, sustainable support,” he said.
Not responding to a growing need for more school construction dollars could threaten county growth. Leggett said Montgomery could face moratoriums on development in areas where schools have reached maximum capacity.
With the state staring at about a $500 million deficit that O’Malley (D) says he plans to close without raising taxes, finding additional dollars to commit in perpetuity will be a challenge, Sen. Roger Manno said.
“It’s a tight budget,” he said. “But it’s my hope that we can find a solution that works for us.”
For the rest of the session, Manno (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring — who sits on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee — said securing this funding will be his No. 1 priority.
If the big three counties broker a deal like Baltimore city secured for school construction last session, Manno said it will be the largest ongoing capital construction project in the history of the state.
Together the state, Baltimore city and its school system will contribute $60 million annually for rehabilitating schools.
Leggett said while Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore counties have stepped forward to ask for school construction funding this session, other communities have similar needs.
“This is not something that is unique to just the three of us,” he said.
If the state does another school construction funding program, like it did for Baltimore City, Busch (Dist. 30) of Annapolis said he would like to see it focus on need not county-by-county allocation.