ANNAPOLIS James Hubert Blake High School sophomore Kristina Cheek stood before the Board of Public Works Wednesday and told them about the impact new schools have made in the lives of Montgomery County students.
“The enthusiasm at our school is very great,” she said smiling. “Thank you.”
Cheek, Northwest High School junior April Henry and Blair High School senior Craig Erdrich joined Montgomery County leaders in asking the board for a total of $57 million for new schools and renovation projects — $25 million more than an advisory panel recommended for the county.
The Interagency Committee on School Construction, which reviews construction project requests, recommended that Montgomery County receive $31.7 million next year. The Board of Public Works, comprised of Gov. Parris Glendening, Treasurer Richard N. Dixon and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, makes the final decision on funding
Last year the county requested $68 million, but received $50 million.
During the testimony, Montgomery County School Board President Reginald Felton pleaded with the board to increase Montgomery’s funding.
“We are one of the fastest growing counties in the state. I don’t know if we’re No. 1, but I know we’re pretty close. Please recognize that there are tremendous (numbers) of schools that need modernization, not just new construction,” he said.
There are more than 50 schools in Montgomery County more than 30 years old, Felton said later. If the county were to receive more money, about eight more schools could be modernized, he said.
Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, chairwoman of the county’s senate delegation, added her plea, saying Montgomery County is “exploding with students.”
Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan backed Ruben’s claims with hard numbers: enrollment is up 2,800 students this fall. Steady increases, which began in 1984, have added almost 37,000 students to the county’s school system. Enrollment growth is expected to continue at an average of roughly 1,400 more students every year in the next five years.
The growth, Duncan said, creates a need for more classroom space, particularly at the secondary level. Specifically, the county needs more money for building a new middle school to replace Forest Oak Middle School; an addition to Kingsview Middle School; and additions to T.S. Wootton, Blake, and Walt Whitman high schools, Duncan said.
This year’s appeals may have a fair chance of going through thanks to the states budget surplus. Glendening on Tuesday unveiled his capital budget, which includes spending $250 million on school construction and repair, the largest amount in 25 years, and a figure equal to the expected surplus. However, Glendening has said the extra money would only be available if the budget was accepted by the General Assembly.
Erdrich, the last student to speak, told the board “every one of our students deserves the opportunity to learn in an environment” similar to that at Blair.
Being in a new school, he said, with resources and computer labs has benefited him and other Blair students academically.
He cited as an example six Blair high school seniors who were among the 40 finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, a kind of high school Nobel prize, sponsored by Intel Corp.
This is the first time in eight years that a high school has had six finalists on the list.
Glendening congratulated Duncan, Felton and other Montgomery County officials for the students’ accomplishments.
Placing in the Intel Science Talent Search, Duncan said, “is an extraordinary accomplishment for Blair, Montgomery County and Maryland.”