DAMASCUS, Md. (WJLA) - Montgomery County Public Schools are under fire from two rural communities for what parents and students say are grossly inadequate education conditions.
At a Monday evening public hearing regarding Supt. Joshua Starr's proposed $1.55 billion Capital Improvement Program for fiscal years 2015-2020, Poolesville and Damascus High Schools made their respective plights heard.
Damascus student body president Morgan Johnson brought a piece of her high school's dilapidated tennis court to the podium. She then rattled-off a list of items many of her 1232 peers say limit their day-to-day learning: leaking ceilings near electrical lights, roaches, rats, maggots, science labs with a mysterious odor and water with a yellow tint.
"We've given cockroaches names and made friends with the critters in our school, but we'd like them to graduate," Johnson, a senior said.
Built in 1950 and renovated in 1978, Damascus High School is the oldest upper-level building in the MCPS system. Still, administrators have not identified a date for construction of a new structure.
"With the money not there it's just delay, delay, delay. Sometimes we feel a little forgotten here up here in the up-county. Our kids matter too," MCCPTA Damascus Cluster President Jennifer McDonald said.
McDonald, whose daughter attends Damascus High School, says under Supt. Starr's current CIP, 2028 is the very earliest construction crews could break ground on a new building.
"Babies born this year would be the first to enjoy all four years at a new school under the current plan, that's hard to believe. We don't want to wait that long," McDonald added.
A waiting game is also underway at Poolsville High School. Constructed in 1953 and remodeled in 1978, MCPS had originally slated construction of a new school to begin in 2021. It came as quite a let down when Supt. Starr's recommended 2015-2020 CIP pushed Poolsville's construction back three years to 2024.
"I was walking down a hallway and some of the ceiling fell down beside me. I wasn't even phased. I constantly get bumped in the halls not because people are rude, but because it's so congested," Poolesville High School senior Marie Jankowski said during Monday evening's public hearing.
Poolesville, which is currently 33 students above capacity, has turned offices into classrooms, and asked some freshmen to forgo taking a locker because of limited supply. The majority of the one-level school's 1203 students eat lunch on the ground in hallways because the 60-year-old cafeteria can only accommodate 17-percent of the student body.
"People will forget what you say and what you do, but they'll never forget how you make them feel. We will be here every single year, sounding-off like a broken record," MCCPTA Poolesville Cluster President Donna Lowell said to the school board and Supt. Starr.
Crowding aside, many students draw attention to bathrooms without hand-dryers because of limited electrical current, ADA hazards and drinking fountains disconnected because of old piping.
"It stinks how we're supposed to be the best school in the county, but we have one of the worst buildings," said senior Jacob Weiss.
Remarkably, Poolesville remains MCPS' top academic-performing high school. Principal Deena Levine says with a new facility, the sky of educational excellence would be the limit.
"It is an older building. The classrooms are small, the hallways are narrow, the ceilings are low, so we're really looking for a state-of-the-art facility. I can only imagine the things we could do," Levine said.
The onslaught of negative remarks come in the face of desperately low educational funding and record-breaking student enrollment within MCPS. While Supt. Starr's newly proposed CIP delays 20 revitalization and expansion projects like Poolesville High School, it does bring 14 new classroom addition projects into the mix.
"We have more need than we have money," Board of Education President Christopher Barclay said to Monday evening's audience of parents and students. "It's not fair to say this board doesn't care. We do care, and we want to have this outpouring of energy when we go to Annapolis to request more state funding."
A second public hearing will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Carver Educational Services Center at 850 Hungerford Dr. in Rockville. The school board is then expected to approve or alter Supt. Starr's CIP recommendation at its meeting next Monday. County Executive Ike Leggett (D) and the County Council will then issue final approval.