Montgomery parents to rally for school construction money -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected at 6:40 p.m. on March 3, 2014. An explanation follows the story.

As Maryland lawmakers brace for a potential multi-year battle on school construction funding, the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations will rally this week to make sure Maryland’s General Assembly knows just how big Montgomery’s overcrowding problem has become.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, County Council President Craig L. Rice, school board President Philip Kauffman and Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr are expected to headline the Thursday evening rally in Annapolis and make the case for Montgomery.

Leggett (D) said the program sought by his county, as well as Prince George’s and Baltimore counties, would establish a steady, predictable stream of state money to leverage borrowing for school construction, similar to the program created last year to provide money to Baltimore City for school construction.

Legislation proposed by Montgomery County delegation leaders creates the Supplemental Public School Construction Matching Fund Program. Under the bill, counties with a triple-A bond rating and school systems with at least 100,000 students would be eligible for up to $20 million each year to fund a portion of school construction projects or project debt.

“We know this is a real tall order,” Leggett said Monday. “It is imperative to get this done.”

He also said last week that election-year politics could stand in the bill’s way.

Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations has organized the rally to tell Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and General Assembly leaders of the immediate need for the bill.

Each year, Montgomery County Public Schools enrollment grows by about 2,000 students, or the equivalent of a high school, Leggett said in January.

Sen. Jamie B. Raskin, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, compared the battle to the one last year for transportation funding.

“It looks bleak, but we mobilized everybody, and we pushed hard,” he said. As for this year, Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park said he thinks “we’ve got a fighting chance.”

“We’ve succeeded in expressing the importance of the issue,” Raskin said. “Now we have to press the urgency of the issue.”

Lynne Harris, vice president for legislation for the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, said about 300 to 400 people are planning to attend Thursday’s rally, a feat unlike what the group has done in the past.

“This year has been an entirely new approach — hopefully broader and more coordinated than the organization’s ever done before,” Harris said.

The county PTA group originally scheduled a rally Feb. 13, but postponed it after a bout of wintry weather.

“We’ve used the time to really up our numbers,” Harris said.

Harris said she’s been in consistent contact with county delegation members and that she is hearing that passing such a bill could become a multi-year effort.

She said she’s also heard from the legislators that it’s up to parents, students, teachers and administrators to make the case for the school system.

“It’s up to us to let those legislators from outside Montgomery County know what the situation is really like,” she said.

Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown also said he thinks it’s important for county school system community members to make sure legislators understand how large the problem is in Montgomery and that the county faces a unique situation.

Rice said he thinks legislators will gauge the extent of the problem by how many people from Montgomery County show up in Annapolis.

“Overall, even though people have expressed their thoughts that this [legislation] might not pass, it is something that still requires us to make sure that we are putting our best foot forward,” Rice said.

Even if the county doesn’t get the money this year, he said, the issue is one that should be “on the forefront of our legislators’ minds.”

Rice said he understands that some efforts require multiple years to pass legislation in Annapolis, but that he is still hopeful.

“There have been stranger things that have happened,” he said.

In letters to the bill’s sponsors, former county executive and 2014 executive hopeful Douglas Duncan said that largely due to an “absence of strong, local leadership,” the county did not secure a school construction funding package last year when Baltimore City was able to do so.

“I respectfully ask that you and your colleagues take over where the local officials have failed, and enact legislation that will lead to Montgomery County receiving its fair share of state school construction funding,” Duncan (D) wrote.

The rally Thursday is planned to start at 6 p.m.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Philip Kauffman’s last name.