Montgomery County Board of Education Testimony Before the County Council on the Requested Fiscal Year 2017 Capital Budget and the Fiscal Year 2017–2022 Capital Improvements Program
The following testimony was presented by Board President Michael A. Durso to the Montgomery County, Maryland County Council on February 10, 2016:
Good evening, Ms. Floreen and members of the County Council. I am Michael A. Durso, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. I am here tonight to testify in support of the Board of Education’s Requested Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Capital Budget and the FY 2017–2022 Capital Improvements Program (CIP). I want to begin by thanking the councilmembers for their continuing support for the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) school construction program. The Board of Education is committed to working with Montgomery County elected officials to address the many facility needs of our school system and to provide our students with the best possible learning environment. This requested CIP accomplishes both of these goals.
The members of the Board of Education believe, as representatives of our staff, students, and parent community, it is our responsibility to request a CIP that reflects the essential funding to meet our needs while being mindful of the fiscal limitations of Montgomery County. With that in mind, the Board of Education’s Requested FY 2017 Capital Budget and the FY 2017–2022 Capital Improvements Program totals $1.728 billion, an increase of $185 million more than the previously approved six-year plan. The request includes $345,630,000 in expenditures for FY 2017, an increase of $80.7 million more than the previously approved FY 2017 expenditures.
MCPS is grateful for the previous support the county executive has provided for school construction. While we understand the county continues to recover from the fiscal constraints of the past several years, the county executive’s recommendation for the MCPS FY 2017–2022 CIP is $160.2 million less than the Board of Education’s request and only $24.4 million more than the approved amount for the six-year period. This recommendation will have a severe impact on our construction program that aims to address the overutilization at many of our schools through new schools and additions, as well as address our aging facilities through our revitalization/expansion program and countywide systemic projects.
The county executive’s recommendation includes a significant change in the state aid assumption over the six-year period. For a number of CIP cycles, the approved assumption for state aid has been $40 million per year over the six-year period. For the FY 2017–2022 CIP, the county executive assumed $55.5 million per year in state aid for the six-year period, an increase of $15.5 million per year, for a total of $93 million over the six years. The county executive stated, in his recommended CIP publication, that his budget assumed $40 million in “traditional” state aid and also assumed an additional $93 million over the six years based on the Capital Grant Program for Local School Systems with Significant Enrollment Growth or Relocatable Classrooms legislation approved by the Maryland General Assembly in April 2015. The current legislation includes $20 million for school construction to those counties experiencing significant enrollment growth. Of that $20 million, MCPS received $5.9 million.
Based on the county executive’s recommendation, MCPS would need to receive $15.5 million from the grant, as well as $40 million from the statewide allocation to meet the $55.5 million assumption for state aid in the recommended FY 2017–2022 CIP. Unless the current legislation is amended to provide additional funding, it is unlikely MCPS will receive $15.5 million from this state grant.
Should the County Council approve the county executive’s recommendation for the MCPS FY 2017 Capital Budget and FY 2017–2022 Capital Improvements Program, not only would projects in the out-years be delayed or eliminated, but projects scheduled to begin construction in FY 2017, the first year of the CIP, may need to be delayed as a result of the recommended FY 2017 expenditure being significantly less than the Board of Education’s request. Also, it is likely that our revitalization/expansion program for elementary and secondary schools would be further delayed. Finally, the Board’s request included increases in expenditures for some of our vital countywide systemic projects that would now be reduced—Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Replacement; Planned Life-cycle Asset Replacement; and, Roof Replacement.
Our CIP request includes new schools, additions, and revitalization/expansion projects to address the overutilization facing many of our schools in the county. For the 2015–2016 school year, MCPS is experiencing its eighth straight year of significant enrollment growth. Official September 30, 2015, enrollment is 156,447 students for a one-year increase of 2,595 students. Since the 2007–2008 school year, enrollment has increased by 18,702 students with most of the increase at the elementary school level. Since 2007, approximately 14,000 more seats have been added to increase school capacities through new school openings and expansion of existing schools; however, the school system continues to be significantly behind in meeting our elementary school space needs.
The large cohort of today’s elementary school students has started to enter middle and high school, and many of these buildings will quickly become overutilized during the next six years. By the 2021–2022 school year, middle school enrollment is projected to increase by 3,508 students and high school enrollment by 6,931 students. These increases would fill three middle schools and three high schools.
Total MCPS enrollment by the 2021–2022 school year is projected to increase to 166,598 students. Adding the projected 10,151 student increase to the 18,702 student increase since 2007 results in a total increase of 28,853 students during the 14-year period from 2007 to 2021. This is remarkable enrollment growth for our school system to accommodate. If we do not address the overutilization at the elementary school level now, space deficits will be compounded by the anticipated overutilization at the secondary level in the near future.
Therefore, the Board of Education’s request maintains the completion dates of five elementary school addition projects and accelerates, by one year, two addition projects—Ashburton and S. Christa McAuliffe elementary schools—two elementary schools with the highest space deficits of the approved addition projects. The Board of Education’s request also maintains the completion date of one new elementary school.
With the continued growth in our school system, the Board of Education’s request used a 125-seat threshold, instead of a 150-seat threshold to determine which elementary schools would be recommended to move forward for addition projects. The Board of Education agreed that the 150-seat threshold, which was used in the previous CIP, would not adequately address our space deficits seen throughout the county. The change in the threshold resulted in five more elementary school addition projects to be included in the requested CIP.
Therefore, the Board of Education’s request includes funding for six new addition projects at the following elementary schools: East Silver Spring Elementary School to relieve the overutilization at Rolling Terrace Elementary School, Greencastle Elementary School, Montgomery Knolls and Pine Crest elementary schools to relieve the overutilization at Forest Knolls Elementary School, Piney Branch Elementary School, and Woodlin Elementary School. The Board’s request also includes funding of one new elementary school in the Clarksburg Cluster.
It has been the practice that for an elementary school to be considered for an addition, the enrollment needs to exceed capacity by four classrooms or more, a minimum of 92 seats. As indicated above, due to fiscal constraints, the previous CIP increased that threshold to 150 seats, and the Board of Education’s requested CIP now sets this threshold at 125 seats. Unfortunately, based on the threshold as well as the rerating of class-size reduction schools for Grades K–2, five previously approved elementary schools—Brookhaven, Glen Haven, Highland, Kemp Mill, and Sargent Shriver elementary schools—were not included in the requested CIP. Additionally, four elementary schools with completed feasibility studies also were not included in the Board of Education’s request—Highland View, Lake Seneca, Thurgood Marshall, and Meadow Hall elementary schools. The Board knows these school communities are disappointed; however, enrollment will continue to be monitored and, if the threshold is met in a future CIP, a capital project could be requested.
With respect to an approved capital project, the new Northwest Cluster elementary school, the deficit in the cluster has decreased from previous years and, based on a deficit evaluation of schools with proposed addition projects and the funding challenges, the Board included a two-year delay for this new elementary school in order to provide an opportunity to monitor the cluster deficit, help to align budget resources while maintaining the funding in the CIP, and explore possible alternatives to address the overutilization at the elementary school level in the Northwest Cluster. The Board also reduced the Northwest Elementary School #8 expenditures by $15 million and will reevaluate capacity and funding needs for the elementary schools in this cluster in the next CIP.
At the secondary level, the Board of Education’s request maintains the completion dates of one middle school and one high school addition project, as well as one new middle school previously included in the approved CIP. The request also includes funding for four new addition projects at Col. E. Brooke Lee, Thomas W. Pyle, and Takoma Park middle schools and Walt Whitman High School.
Our revitalization/expansion program addresses both aging facilities as well as overutilization, and therefore includes a large share of our CIP funding. Over the past several CIP cycles, due to fiscal constraints, the schedule for these vital projects has been delayed. The Board of Education’s request maintains the approved revitalization/expansion schedule at the elementary and secondary levels. However, as a result of the Montgomery County Council Office of Legislative Oversight’s study on the revitalization/expansion program, the Facilities Assessment and Criteria Testing (FACT) Review Committee has reconvened and the superintendent of schools will forward a recommendation to the Board of Education on the FACT methodology and how the queue of schools will be addressed in the future.
Currently, all of the high schools in the Downcounty Consortium are overutilized. The Wheaton High School revitalization/expansion project is almost complete and the new building includes a 24-classroom shell that could be built out to provide additional capacity for the high schools in the consortium. With construction still onsite, it would be more cost effective to build the shell out now, rather than in the future. Therefore, the Board of Education Requested FY 2017–2022 CIP includes an additional $11 million to build out the 24 classrooms at Wheaton High School to address the space deficits at the high school level in the consortium.
With respect to our countywide projects, the Board believes that it is vital that MCPS has the necessary funding to address our aging infrastructure and our systemwide needs. Therefore, our CIP request includes funding for these essential projects and additional funding, beyond the approved levels, for the following systemic projects: Improved Safe Access to Schools; Planned Life-cycle Asset Replacement; Roof Replacement; Artificial Turf; and Fire Safety Code Upgrades. One countywide project—Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Replacement—is increased substantially to address the $160 million backlog of HVAC projects to provide upgrades and/or replacements of HVAC systems that are beyond their expected service life.
Finally, we know that the state must provide its fair share of school construction funding to meet its obligation to the students of Montgomery County. Our revised FY 2017 State Aid request is $149.958 million. On January 27, 2016, Mr. Larry A. Bowers, interim superintendent of schools, and I testified at the Board of Public Works hearing in Annapolis to urge the state to provide full funding of our state aid request for our capital projects. Without a reasonable level of state aid, we know that it will be difficult for the project schedules identified in the Board’s CIP request to be maintained. We appreciate the Council’s support of our state aid request and urge our state delegation to continue its efforts to secure state aid needed to fund MCPS projects that already are under construction.
The Board looks forward to your consideration of our request and appreciates the continuing support of the County Council and the county executive for our capital needs. We urge you to invest in the future of our county by fully funding our budget as requested. We know that our six-year CIP request is considerable; however, we believe it is necessary to address the needs of our schools. We believe that the greater Montgomery County community understands that the quality of life in the county is highly correlated to the success of our schools.
Thank you for your time this evening.