Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who is pressing Maryland lawmakers for a major boost in state funding of school construction and repair, proposed a capital budget Wednesday with significantly more local dollars for the effort.
The six-year blueprint, which goes to the County Council for approval, would raise local funding for school construction from $987 million to more than $1.1 billion — roughly a 13 percent increase. It is aimed at addressing serious overcrowding in Montgomery’s 151,000-student public school system, which has seen enrollment increase by 14,000 since 2007.
“It gives us an opportunity, at least from a local standpoint, to address the challenges,” Leggett told council members at a Wednesday morning briefing.
Leggett (D), seeking reelection to a third term this year, has made increased construction funding from the General Assembly his top political and policy priority. One of his two opponents in the June Democratic primary, former county executive Doug Duncan, has also stressed the importance of a push for new school construction money.
Wednesday’s announcement was designed, in part, to signal state lawmakers in Annapolis that the county is willing to “pony up” as well.
Montgomery is looking for something akin to the measure lawmakers passed last year for Baltimore. It called for the state, the city and the school system to each pledge $20 million a year over 30 years to service $1 billion in bonds. The plan is expected to finance 15 new schools and the renovation of 35 others over the next 10 years.
The capital budget Leggett unveiled assumes $230.7 million in new state funding, along with $24o million through the traditional state formula, over the next six years. Combined with the local commitment, Leggett said, the county would be able to fully fund the school system’s $1.7 billion construction budget request.
The prospects for a Baltimore-style deal are unclear at best. The state faces a $421 million budget deficit. There are other big-ticket items on the region’s wish list, including financing for a new hospital in Prince George’s County.
Leggett joined with Prince George’s Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz (D) in Annapolis on Tuesday to drum up support for a regional school construction measure. But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) was not encouraging when speaking to reporters.
“I’m going to stand with them,” he said. “They’re my friends . . . but they’ve got to be told the cold hard facts of life.”
At Wednesday’s council briefing, Leggett was asked about Miller’s remark, and he suggested that it was more a part of the General Assembly’s ritual budget-season dance than a serious assessment.
“President Miller normally steps back before he steps forward,” Leggett said.
This school year, Montgomery public school enrollment swelled by 2,510 students, enough to fill more than three elementary schools. The system uses more than 450 portable classrooms, and enrollment is projected to grow by 11,000 students in the next six years.
If the money flows as Leggett envisions, it would fund additions to 18 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools, officials said. The projects would add about 455 classrooms by fiscal 2020. Estimated annual operating costs at the two middle schools and two high schools would increase by a total of $21 million, according to budget summaries.
The additional local commitment to school construction would require a reduction of about $300 million, or 14 percent, in spending on county government projects, although cuts could be restored if other funding became available.
Leggett did some reshuffling and deferral of projects to free up the funds for school construction. For example, a renovation of the auditorium at Old Blair High School in Silver Spring, scheduled to be complete in 2017, has been pushed to 2020. Renovations of the Potomac and Davis libraries will be scaled back to a less costly “refreshing.” The planning and design phase of Montgomery College’s Germantown Student Services Center has also been pushed beyond 2018.