Local: Education

MontCo budget cuts could crowd already crowded schools

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Local,Maryland,Education,Rachel Baye
Cutting Montgomery County Public Schools' construction budget could mean forgoing much-needed renovations and allowing already overcrowded schools to become more crowded, the system's new superintendent says.

County Executive Ike Leggett last month asked the heads of MCPS, Montgomery College and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to prepare for large cuts to their capital budgets, totaling $150 million over a six-year period starting July 1, 2012. The school system's contribution would be $34 million of its $887 million capital budget over the next four years.

But in a letter responding to Leggett's request, Superintendent Joshua Starr warned that the proposed cuts would burden a school system faced with overcrowded schools badly in need of repairs and expansion.

When school started last week, MCPS greeted 2,500 new enrollees. In total, nearly 147,000 students attend Montgomery County public schools, an increase of about 9,000 students in four years. Enrollment is expected to grow by at least 8,000 by the start of the 2016-2017 academic year, Starr said.

"Every year we seem to get a whole elementary or middle school's worth of students," said Laura Berthiaume, a member of the county's Board of Education. "$34 million is a middle school or an elementary school plus an addition."

Several schools need renovations, such as Maryvale Elementary School, which was scheduled to be modernized in 2008 and is now scheduled for 2018, or Twinbrook Elementary School, which is "severely dilapidated" and overcrowded, Berthiaume said.

Some of the schools have mold and leaky roofs and have added portable classrooms that take up the schools' playgrounds and parking lots to accommodate growing enrollments, Berthiaume said.

"If ... you were a parent you would say to yourself, 'Really? This is a Montgomery County Public School? ... Because it sure doesn't look it,'" said Berthiaume.

Bus depots are also overcrowded, said Brian Edwards, Starr's chief of staff.

"This is also a very good time to build because interest rates are low [and] construction folks have been much more amenable to lowering their prices," he said.

School board President Christopher Barclay said he doesn't know where the $34 million is going to come from, but he agreed that the cuts would be difficult.

But Leggett's office proposed the cuts knowing that it would be difficult, said Patrick Lacefield, Leggett's spokesman.

According to Berthiaume, about 80 percent of the school system's capital budget comes from the county, and most of the rest comes from the state. Though the school board plans to discuss its budget proposals in the coming weeks, decisions on county funding will be made by the County Council.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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