Board of Education Approves $1.74 Billion Capital Improvements Program
The Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously approved a new six-year Capital Improvements Program (CIP) request for MCPS on Nov. 18 that will help ease overcrowding caused by years of dramatic enrollment growth. The Board’s six-year request of $1.74 billion includes 14 new classroom addition projects and keeps on schedule many other projects that will add capacity to schools. The capital budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 is $251.6 million.
“Enrollment in MCPS has grown by nearly 14,000 students over the past six years and that growth is expected to continue in the years to come,” said Board President Christopher Barclay. “Many of our schools are already well over capacity, so we must act quickly to add classrooms for the students who are here today and those who will be coming in the very near future.
“This CIP begins to address our space needs, but we must continue to invest in our facilities if we are going to keep up with our growth and serve every student to the highest level,” Barclay said.
Nearly 90 percent of the enrollment growth MCPS has experienced over the past six years has been in elementary schools. Of the 14 new classroom addition projects in the Board’s CIP request, 12 are for elementary schools, including five in the Downcounty Consortium, where enrollment growth has been the most dramatic. The request also increases funding for countywide infrastructure projects, including Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) replacement, which has fallen behind in recent years.
A new six-year CIP is approved every two years and includes investments in four general categories—capacity projects, such as new schools and classroom additions; revitalization/expansion projects that upgrade and expand existing schools; infrastructure improvements; and technology.
The Board’s CIP request represents an increase of more than $376.5 million over the current CIP (FY 2013-2018), but is far less than the district’s actual need. It would require a $2.2 billion CIP to meet all of the district’s pressing facility, infrastructure, and technology needs.
“We are approving a substantial CIP request today but, even if it is fully funded, it won’t meet all the needs we have,” said Phil Kauffman, Vice President of the Board. “We must find additional revenue from the state that will allow MCPS to provide all students with a modern, safe classroom where they can learn and grow.”
Over the past several years, Montgomery County has only received about 11 percent of state’s school construction funds, even though MCPS accounts for about 17 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment. From 2000 to 2012, MCPS has experienced more growth than the public schools in Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick and Baltimore counties combined. Yet for this fiscal year (FY 2014), MCPS requested $149.3 million in state aid for school construction and received $35.1 million.
On Oct. 31, the Board of Education joined the Montgomery County Executive, members of the County Council and the county’s legislative delegation in calling for an increase in state funding that would allow for additional capacity projects in MCPS. Legislation seeking the additional funding is expected to be introduced during the upcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly. The legislation will be similar to a plan the state approved for Baltimore City Public Schools last year. (Learn more about the county plan.)
The Board’s CIP request will now be submitted to the County Executive and the County Council for consideration. The County Executive will release his CIP for the county, including MCPS, in January. The Board will consider the CIP request in the spring.
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr submitted a $1.55 billion CIP recommendation on Oct. 28. The Board’s requested CIP is about $192.6 million higher than Dr. Starr’s recommendation because of changes the Board made based on community input and districtwide need.
Public hearings on the CIP were held on Nov. 11 and 14, attracting hundreds of students, staff, parents and community members. Much of the testimony focused not only on space shortages, but also on the growing need to replace aging buildings and infrastructure.
The Board’s CIP includes classroom additions at five Downcounty Consortium elementary schools (Brookhaven, Glen Haven, Kemp Mill, Sargent Shriver and Highland) and seven other elementary schools (Ashburton, Lucy V. Barnsley, Burtonsville, Diamond, Kensington-Parkwood, Christa McAuliffe and Judith Resnik).
The CIP request also maintains the completion dates of several other elementary school capacity projects that have been previously approved, including additions at six schools (Waters Landing, Arcola, Bethesda, North Chevy Chase, Rosemary Hills and Wood Acres), and new elementary schools in the Clarksburg, Northwest and Richard Montgomery clusters.
The Board’s CIP also includes new additions at two secondary schools (North Bethesda Middle School and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School) and maintains the completion dates for previously approved secondary school capacity projects, including classroom additions at Julius West Middle School and Clarksburg High School, and new middle schools that will serve the Clarksburg/Damascus and Bethesda-Chevy Chase clusters.
In order to focus as much funding as possible on building capacity, Dr. Starr had recommended that 20 planned revitalization/expansion projects—formerly called “modernizations”—be delayed. He had recommended that secondary school projects be delayed by two years and elementary projects by one year.
However, the CIP request approved by the Board keeps all secondary school revitalization/expansion projects on their current schedule, adding about $172 million to Dr. Starr’s recommendation. The Board’s CIP does maintain Dr. Starr’s recommendation for a one-year delay on all elementary school revitalization/expansion projects.
“The huge enrollment increases we are seeing in our elementary schools today will be moving into our middle and high schools in the coming years,” Barclay said. “Based on what we are hearing from the community and what we have seen in our own experiences, many of our secondary schools need to be significantly upgraded in order to handle this enrollment bubble and provide all of our students with a 21st century education.”
The Board’s CIP also adds a revitalization project for the Blair Ewing Center, which houses the district’s alternative programs. A feasibility study has already been done for this project. The Blair Ewing Center project adds $16.6 million to the CIP.
Other Boundary and Facility Actions
The Board took action on several other facility and boundary issues that are part of the CIP.
The Board unanimously approved Dr. Starr’s recommendation that New Hampshire Estates and Oak View elementary schools remain “paired,” meaning students attend PreK-grade 2 at one school (New Hampshire Estates) and grades 3 through 5 at the other school (Oak View). A Roundtable Discussion Group met for several months and provided a report to the superintendent for his consideration. In his recommendation, Dr. Starr said that unpairing the schools would require additional construction and could lead to increased socioeconomic disparity among the schools. (Read Dr. Starr’s recommendation)
The Board also unanimously approved a service area for a new Clarksburg Cluster elementary school that will open in August 2014. A Boundary Advisory Committee, which included staff and community members, had developed 10 service area options, which informed Dr. Starr’s recommendation and the Board’s decision. The Board chose Option 10 from the Boundary Advisory Committee’s report.
Also on Monday, the Board unanimously approved elementary school capacity studies in the Downcounty Consortium and the Gaithersburg cluster that will explore options for dealing with overcrowding, including classroom additions, new elementary schools, or both.
The Downcounty Consortium study will include six elementary schools in the lower part of the consortium (East Silver Spring, Forest Knolls, Highland View, Rolling Terrance, Sligo Creek and Woodlin) and six area elementary schools that are paired with other schools (Montgomery Knolls and Pine Crest; New Hampshire Estates and Oak View; and Takoma Park and Piney Branch). The Board added the paired schools to Dr. Starr’s recommendation for the study.
The Gaithersburg study will include all seven elementary schools in the cluster—Gaithersburg, Goshen, Laytonsville, Rosemont, Summit Hall, Strawberry Knoll and Washington Grove.
The Board also unanimously approved a school assignment study that will consider assigning students housed on the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to Bethesda Elementary School.