All In: Where We Spend Our Money Matters
Late fall is budget season for our school system. While on the surface, budgets sound dry and mundane, they provide us the opportunity to evaluate our priorities and put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. Where we spend our money matters. We must be intentional in what we prioritize, ensuring that our programs are strategically funded so they help us reach our goals.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) operates under two major budgets: the Operating Budget, which I will write about in several weeks, and the Capital Budget. The Capital Budget is where we address new school construction, additions and other renovations, and major systemic projects (such as roofing, window and door replacement, and air conditioning and heating units). It is based on a six-year Capital Improvements Program (CIP), which is updated annually based on current and anticipated enrollment, as well as on the condition of our aging buildings.
Montgomery County is growing rapidly. This current school year, for example, MCPS welcomed more than 2,700 additional students to our schools. Our enrollment by the 2025-2026 school year—the last year in our proposed six-year plan—is projected to increase by 5,880 students. Each of these additional students will need a spot in a classroom and access to adequate gym facilities, media centers and other gathering spaces. This is a remarkable amount of growth and equates to several new schools and numerous building additions.
In addition to growth, our schools are aging. We must maintain them adequately so they do not deteriorate beyond repair. We must make sure that our buildings provide safe and inviting learning environments for our students, staff and communities.
On October 25, 2019, I presented my Recommended Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Capital Budget and the FY 2021-2026 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) to the Board of Education for its consideration and adoption. After three public hearings and several in-depth public discussions, the Board adopted its Capital Budget and CIP. These documents and other related information can be found here. I am confident that these capital requests are fiscally prudent and address many of our critical capacity and aging school needs. While we could have included many more projects, the Board and I believe it is important to also consider the fiscal environment of the county.
The decisions about which capital projects to include were difficult. There are many needs and competing interests among our more than one million residents, more than 165,000 students, and 208 schools. The Adopted Capital Budget and CIP were developed over the past year by analyzing the Key Facility Indicator data, along with other facility, program and enrollment information. Once we determined the projects that would be included in the CIP, we sequenced them throughout the six-year CIP period. We propose spending approximately 29 percent of the funds on major capital projects; 30 percent on countywide projects, such as heating and air conditioning, window and door replacement, fire safety and ADA-compliance projects; and 41 percent on projects to increase building capacity.
MCPS is a fiscally dependent organization. We do not raise our own funds, but rely on the county and state governments to fund our requests. For the FY 2021 Capital Budget and the FY 2021-2026 Capital Improvements Program, MCPS is requesting $1.8 billion over the six-year period. Typically, this represents an approximately 80/20 percent funding split between Montgomery County and the state of Maryland.
The Board’s adopted FY 2021 Capital Budget and the FY 2021-2026 Capital Improvements Program will be forwarded to the county government for its consideration. The county executive will publish his CIP recommendations for all county agencies—which includes the school system—by mid-January for consideration by the County Council. The County Council will hold public hearings before adopting the budget in late May 2020.
I call on the County Council to fund our Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Capital Budget and the FY 2021-2026 Capital Improvements Program request; the need is greater than this request. The projects included in this planning document are critical for our community, students and schools. If we do not fund these projects now, they will backlog into future years, which leads to the question, “If not now, when?”
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