Parents with children in the public schools have been complaining for years about the outdated facilities and growing number of trailers at schools across the county.
On Oct. 30, School Superintendent Jerry Weast came to Potomac to announce the price tag for the upgrades, $956 million over five years.
“I could have asked for more,” Weast said at a press conference at Bells Mill Elementary in Potomac. “The need is substantiated for more.”
The amount requested is $319 million more than the previously approved Capital Improvements Program, the officially term for the county budget for major construction or renovation.
The project would open five new schools and re-open five others. It would also build additions on 21 schools, gymnasiums in 33 elementary schools, and refurbish restrooms in 50 schools.
Weast estimates that if the project is built, the number of portable classrooms will drop from nearly 700 to approximately 300. He further estimates that if it is not built, the number of portables will increase to 1,000.
Weast argues that this project is necessary just for schools to catch up during what school demographers predict will be a lull in the increase in enrollment. “Even if we build out this plan, we’ll be back in the future,” Weast said.
Patricia O’Neill, president of the School Board, is also in favor of the plan. “I know it’s not going to address all of our problems, but it will go a long way,” O’Neill said.
Weast believes it will be a hard fight for the funding. “These are hard times, these are hard decisions,” he said.
Neither Weast nor O’Neill will be making those decisions, however, because the school board does not have taxing authority.
Some of Potomac elected representatives expressed a desire to fund the budget. “We need to make sure we can do this,” said Sen. Rob Garagiola (R-15). Garagiola echoed Weast’s comments that capital projects, which are often funded with bonds, are better to start when interest rates are low, as they are now. “It’s more cost effective to do something like this now,” Garagiola said.
“I certainly think it’s worth trying. I think it’s a laudable ambition,” said Montgomery County Councilmember Howard Denis (R-1). “I really like the idea of cutting the portables in half.”
Denis also thinks that bonding would be the most likely way of getting all the funding. “We certainly, by raising the bond limit, put this in play,” he said.