ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - Maryland's largest school district is alerting the statehouse that it desperately needs more money. The problem stems from a dramatic spike in Montgomery County student enrollment, which has led to overcrowding system-wide.
Since 2000, Montgomery County has welcomed 14,599 students, raising its overall student population to 146,497. That's more growth than Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick and Baltimore counties combined - during the same period of time. Consequently, nearly half of MCPS schools are projected to have seat deficits by the 2018-2019 school year.
"We are known nationally for our school system, which contributes directly to our ability to attract and retain an educated workforce, business and industry," Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said. The longer MCPS is behind in providing adequate school capacity, the more difficult and expensive it will be to catch up."
Mindy Kassaraba's daughter is in the second grade at Rolling Terrace Elementary in Takoma Park, a school already 25% above capacity.
"We already have a playground that's crunched as it is. If we keep adding portables, there will literally be no room for kids to run during recess. That should be an image every state senator should take home with them," Kassaraba said.
MCPS says there are 379 portable trailers in operation, 335 at elementary schools like Rolling Terrace. If the state does not approve the funding, that figure will inevitably grow.
On Thursday, a media conference was held to draw attention to the issue. School, county and state leaders were in attendance, unanimous in their call on Annapolis to enact legislation to jumpstart a building program to increase MCPS capacity and modernize facilities.
"This is priority number one. This is a crisis for us, we have to deal with it. We're looking forward to working with the state to make that happen," Board of Education President Christopher Barclay remarked.
"We have a majority-minority school system with 33 percent of our students receiving free and reduced-price meals, nearly 12 percent of students in special education, and 13 percent enrolled in English for speakers of other languages," said Councilmember Valerie Ervin, who chairs the Council's Education Committee. "This increasing education load, combined with our aging infrastructure and an influx of 14,000 students projected over the next six years, requires a major infusion of funding to invigorate our public schools building program."
Last year the Maryland Legislature handed Baltimore City Public Schools $20 million to renovate aging buildings. Now MCPS is asking for the same $20 million state payout, plus $40 million from Montgomery County. School leaders would use those funds to purchase $750 million in bonds to finance construction projects over the next five years. The funding would finance 56 projects set to add capacity at severely impacted schools.
"Since they've gone outside the norm to give Baltimore City what it quite honestly deserved, we hope they'll do the same thing for Montgomery County," Montgomery County Public Schools Supt. Joshua Starr said.
The Baltimore City Public Schools Construction and Revitalization Act of 2013 was funded by $20 million in annual state lottery proceeds and $40 million in Baltimore City and Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners revenues.
"The Montgomery County delegation unanimously supported last year's legislation to assist Baltimore City schools because of their unique situation, but now Montgomery County is in the midst of its own unique crisis that threatens to jeopardize our ability to provide an economic boost to other jurisdictions," said Maryland State Senator Rich Madaleno. "We need help now, before the County and the state suffer economically."