The Montgomery County Board of Education has approved a six-year $1.74 billion plan to renovate and expand schools, responding to public outcry about the overcrowding and disrepair of some facilities.
Superintendent Joshua Starr previously recommended a mere $1.55 billion, which would have involved delays in 20 school renovation projects. Parents and students representing schools from Damascus to Blair argued that such funds would not suffice. On November 18, the Board unanimously approved a larger plan to keep previous renovations on schedule for all secondary schools and to fund some newer projects over the next decade.
The Board’s school renovation and expansion plan “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,” said Board President Christopher Barclay in a press release.
The entire Capital Improvements Program, which includes funding for new technology, construction, equipment, and heating and ventilation systems, will now go to the county government for consideration.
Nevertheless, school officials state that the hundreds of millions of dollars in spending approved by the school board is roughly half a billion dollars too little for adequately modernizing many of MCPS’s 202 schools. Many school facilities have severe problems. On November 12, Morgan Johnson the student government president at Damascus High School, brought a piece of her school’s crumbling tennis court to the podium as she spoke about the need for greater construction funding. Johnson then cited a list of items that her 1232 peers say limit their day-to-day learning: leaking ceilings near electrical lights, roaches, rats, maggots, science labs with mysterious odors, and water with a yellow tint. MCCPTA President Janette Gilman later noted that parents in MCPS “recognize that children’s needs are not being met with $1.55 billion.”
At some schools, however, environmental problems and overcrowding are not quite as problematic. “I don’t have a problem with overcrowding because I like learning in big environments, but I can see how it would be a problem for some students because they need smaller classes and special attention,” said Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School freshman Danny Germino-Watnick.
MCPS currently has 151,289 students, and its enrollment is expected to continue climbing. Poolesville High School students told WJLA that they sit on stools around the classroom because there isn’t enough space for desks. Others eat lunch on the floor because the cafeteria fits only 17 percent of the student body. Although many students and teachers are hailing the Board of Education’s decision to keep most construction projects on track, it remains to be seen how long schools will have to wait for renovations given the tight state of county finances.
Article by Rebecca Schrader, MoCo Student staff writer