ANNAPOLIS – Montgomery County officials have hardly been bashful in asking for school construction money from the state this year — their nearly $70 million request is far and away the largest from any Maryland county.
But Montgomery County officials said they deserve every penny of it and they promised Gov. Parris Glendening help with his budget if it means they get the school money they need.
“I feel that spending all that money on schools is essential and I’m willing to put my neck on the line and vote to keep the money that [Glendening] is putting into [the budget],” said Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery, after testifying Thursday to the Maryland Board of Public Works.
Glendening, who serves as chairman of the board, has proposed spending $222 million statewide on school construction and renovation in the fiscal 1999 budget.
The Interagency Committee on School Construction has recommended that Montgomery County, which got $38 million for schools last year, should get $10.6 million this year.
But county officials are asking to have that amount dramatically increased.
Ruben said the county’s fast-growing student population has forced it to set up 210 portable classrooms and 1,294 overcrowded classrooms.
The county is still waiting to be reimbursed by the state for three new high schools built with over $19 million of county funds, said County Executive Douglas Duncan.
Duncan also said there the county has more than 60 schools that were built during the 1960s that now need a variety of renovations.
He said that the willingness of Montgomery County officials to pledge their unqualified support for the governor’s budget should give them an edge that other counties might not have.
“You had senators and delegates in there today who basically said the state is spending too much money on school construction and yet they were in there asking for money for their own counties,” he said.
Several times during the proceedings, Glendening put delegates and state senators on the spot as they asked for school money for their districts, by asking them to commit to his entire budget.
Unlike many counties pleading for more school money at Thursday’s board meeting — 19 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions came with hat in hand — the Montgomery County presentation was direct and to the point.
Montgomery County officials also received a warmer reception. The governor recognized with delight that the county has renovated about 1,500 classrooms in the past three years.
Ruben pointed out that Montgomery County is the state’s largest in both population and tax revenue. A well-educated local workforce is a top priority for companies considering a move into the county, she said, making education a “No. 1 concern” if the county is to portray the right image.