Recommended Capital Improvement Program threatens school construction

Feb. 2, 2012, 11:28 a.m. | By Maureen Lei | 8 years, 8 months ago

On Jan. 17, Montgomery County released County Executive Isiah Leggett's recommended Capital Improvement Program (CIP), a budget designated for construction and maintenance projects. Leggett recommended a $1.36 billion Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-2018 CIP for MCPS, a $134 million reduction from the budget that the Board of Education (BOE) requested.

The County Executive's proposed CIP will delay all future high school modernization projects — construction that involves tearing down and rebuilding deteriorating school buildings. According to Montgomery County Spokesperson Patrick Lacefield, Leggett recommended a reduced CIP because of the current economic situation. "When you build stuff, you've got to staff it, so it puts more pressure on the budget, where we continue to experience challenges because of the economic climate," he said.

By tightening MCPS' spending capabilities, however, Montgomery County is setting the school district up for financial failure. Though funds are scarce, today is the ideal time to fund construction projects. Building costs have plunged and will rise as the economy improves, according to BOE Vice President Chris Barclay. "The opportunities that exist now — building with construction costs lower than they have been — that opportunity is not always going to be here," he said.

Furthermore, school construction and repair are inevitable, and they are responsibilities the county and school district must take care of. MCPS saw an increase of 2500 students this past school year and projects an enrollment of 156,000 students by 2017, according to Barclay. As enrollment in MCPS continues to shoot up, the amount of space needed to educate students will increase accordingly. "That's a lot of change in the system, and we've got to have someplace for those students to go," said Barclay.

Though finances are universally tight — the County Council is slashing budgets across the board, according to Lacefield — population growth and price demand that MCPS fund construction projects now. If the Council fails to allocate the necessary money, the school district will be forced to waste a valuable opportunity, burdening students and educators in future years.

The County Council will hold a public hearing regarding the MCPS CIP on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. in the Council Hearing Room, 100 Maryland Avenue, in Rockville. The County Council will review and pass the final CIP in mid-June.

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