The massive enrollment growth in Montgomery County public schools over the last few years is slowing, but the dilemma of where to put all the students -- and their teachers -- remains very real.
About 17,000 students currently attend classes in portable buildings across Montgomery County. Precious playground space has been sacrificed to make room for what many hope are only temporary quarters.
Now, to make sure schools are built when they're needed, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast has unveiled a plan asking for more money to cover rising construction costs. As part of the six-year capital improvement plan unveiled late last month, Weast is asking for an additional $82.5 million to pay for new buildings and renovations next fiscal year. The requested increase will bring the total fiscal 2007 capital budget to $267.5 million.
Student enrollment in the school system grew by 42,620 students between 1987 and 2002 -- an average of more than 2,800 students a year. This year, enrollment grew by only 50 students.
Even though the school system has continued building, classroom space remained at a premium because other initiatives, including smaller class sizes and full-day kindergarten, required more space than was available.
Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning for Montgomery County Public Schools, said officials hope to take advantage of the current lull in enrollment to push forward with an aggressive building program.
Over the last decade, Montgomery has built more than 14 campuses. This year it opened two middle school campuses. In fall 2006, it will open five new campuses -- one high school and four elementary schools.
With next year's openings, Crispell said administrators hope to put more than 2,000 students into permanent classrooms -- and get rid of as many as 85 portables. The opening of the two middle school campuses shifted 600 students to permanent rooms.
Weast's plan calls for seven more schools -- one high school and six elementary -- to be built over the next six years. In addition, gymnasiums would be built at 30 elementary schools.
Other elements of Weast's proposal:
* Construction of a new high school in Clarksburg, and six elementary schools in Clarksburg, Germantown and Silver Spring.
* Building improvements at one high school, Albert Einstein, and two middle schools,
Redland and Ridgeview, including gyms, administrative offices and media centers.
* Modernization at Richard Montgomery, Walter Johnson and Paint Branch high schools; Parkland, Francis Scott Key and Cabin John middle schools; and nine elementary schools, College Gardens, Galway, Cashell, Bells Mill, Cresthaven, Carderock Springs, Farmland, Cannon Road and Garrett Park.
The school board is expected to take up the plan on Nov. 17. If the board approves Weast's recommendations, they will then go to County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who will issue his plan in January.
Final adoption by the County Council would come in May 2006.
Individuals who want to review the superintendent's recommendation can find it on the school system's Web site at www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/planning/CIPMaster.htm.