ANNAPOLIS – Montgomery County won $159 million in direct operating aid for education and $108 million in capital projects funding during the 1999 General Assembly session, prompting county leaders to call it their best showing yet.
County leaders credited their prosperity to hard work and a team effort that included Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, the governor, lieutenant governor and legislators from other delegations.
“You talk about teamwork in Montgomery County, this is it,” Montgomery Senate Chairwoman Ida G. Ruben said at a news conference this week, and pointing to Duncan, Montgomery County Delegation Chairman Kumar Barve, County Council President Isiah Leggett and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, all Democrats.
This is the most funding in direct operating education aid the county has ever received, according to Ruben who credited Gov. Parris Glendening’s commitment to education for the county’s windfall.
Montgomery received $159 million in that aid for education, a 6.4 percent increase over last year, and $1.4 million from the governor’s supplemental budget to hire 30 new teachers this July to reduce sizes of first- and second- grade reading classes. Montgomery is the only county to receive money for the class-size reduction plan this year; all others will receive funding next year.
Other coups for the county were the successful passage of legislation expanding throughout Maryland a successful pilot program to provide in-classroom breakfasts to elementary school students and approval of the School Safety Act of 1999, which would increase penalties for threatening school employees, and protect them from threats made to them at home.
Duncan was called Montgomery County’s “secret weapon” by Barve for his relentless lobbying before and during the session. Barve also named Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, an honorary “Montgomery County citizen” for securing funding for the county.
The delegation’s five freshmen members, all of whom introduced bills that passed and are expected to become law, were also praised.
“It’s very rare to have freshmen who show results,” Barve said. Afterward, he acknowledged that while the delegation didn’t get everything it hoped for, it “got 90 percent (of it) and that’s an A-plus.”
The county delegation still has work to do. It is awaiting word from the Board of Public Works on its request for $58 million for school construction projects. The governor, who is a member of the Board, pledged $50 million.
Despite a “bumpy ride” during the legislative process, Duncan called this year a “great session for school children of Montgomery County.” Duncan was sharply critical of his usual ally, Glendening, in lobbying for county school funding, a situation that created a storm of publicity.
“We say it all the time – education is a priority in Montgomery County,” he said. “The good news is our voices were heard.”
Delegate Barbara Kopp, D-Montgomery, and one of the General Assembly’s most vocal education advocates echoed Ruben’s reasons on why the county did well.
“I think we ended up doing extremely well … because we unified, stuck together and worked well with legislators from other areas. The governor’s support was also critical to succeed,” Kopp said. “It took a lot of work, negotiating and arguing, but it paid off.” Other Montgomery County 1999 session accomplishments:
— Legislation to expand a property tax credit program to retain or attract big businesses. It was dubbed the “Marriott Bill,” because the legislation was drafted to keep the hotel chain’s headquarters in Montgomery County.
— $5 million for the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring. Groundbreaking is April 19.
— $9 million for a new detention center in Clarksburg.
— $3.6 million for planning a new concert hall and education center at Strathmore Hall Performing Arts Center; $6 million to restore Glen Echo Park; $750,000 for the construction of a new theatre for the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts and $700,000 for the construction of the Germantown Cultural Arts Center
— $5.6 million in funding to begin the first phase of Montgomery College’s Takoma Park Campus expansion.