State Sen. Nancy King and County Executive Ike Leggett joined speakers who touted Montgomery County Public Schools’ achievements and then urged community participation — in the forms of increased taxes.
Leggett said one reason that MCPS needs money is to decrease the student-teacher ratio.
MCPS cannot continue to operate as it does now if its funding remains at the current level, he said.
“We have an excellent system, but no system can continue to operate effectively with the kinds of numbers that we see and the restraints on resources of resources we’ve had in the last few years,” Leggett said.
Leggett said he is proud of MCPS now but that his pride in the county school system will fade if it continues to be underfunded. He then called on the public to give more money to the schools.
“I brag constantly about our school system, but I cannot continue to hold that flag up unless we are prepared to provide the resources that we talked about,” Leggett said.
Leggett said the school system cannot meet its goals with the state funding and that local taxes may increase to fully provide for the school system’s needs, such as keeping up appropriate student-teacher ratios.
He held up a picture of his granddaughter from early Monday morning to remind attendees of the system’s youngest stakeholders.
“It will mean, and we’ve looked at all other resources, all of the concerns that we’ve had, it will mean that we need additional resources,” Leggett said. “And what I’m talking about (is) additional taxes, because I want to make sure the state is providing its portion of what we need, and that we are doing it here locally, so that my granddaughter, who says ‘back to cool’ has the quality education we want for all of our children.”
Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal said he wanted to reiterate something board of education President Pat O’Neill said. “The fact that our school system is growing so rapidly is an extraordinary mark of what we offer here,” Leventhal said. “We are proud to be the magnet for talent; we are proud to be the kind of community that people want to come to and want to be educated in.”
Leventhal said that though increased enrollment has outweighed funding collected through taxes, members of the community are aware of the importance of the education system in the economy.
“It’s a fiscal burden, and we’ve got to have a real dialogue with our taxpayers,” Leventhal said. “Our county executive has warned us and said that a tax increase may be coming; we’ve got to be very upfront and transparent. But our public understands that our school system is the fundamental platform on which we build everything else.”
Leventhal said the public school system brings residents and business owners to the county.
Council member Craig Rice echoed Leventhal, saying that the community is based on its education system and that it should be treated that way (in terms of funding).
Leventhal said Montgomery County faces the burden of “a tax base that is not growing as fast as our growing population.”
Rice mentioned that he grew up in the county because his parents liked the school system.
He said that the county enjoys job growth and economic improvement because the education program is effective in bringing in business and preparing children to be successful. MCPS can only continue to be effective if the school facilities have enough classrooms for the increasing enrollment, Rice said.
“I was meeting with power companies a couple days ago, and they said that one of the main drivers for them when it comes to attracting folks is that our quality school system continues to achieve for our kids,” Rice said. “And that’s important, but it’s also important that we continue to have that achievement, and it cannot happen when we continue to have school construction that lags behind.
“I’d like to thank all the people responsible for making Montgomery County Public Schools the great system that it is,” Rice said.
With enrollment growing by approximately 2,000 students per year since 2007, more classrooms are needed.
Rice said that projects to add classrooms are being completed too slowly for the rise in enrollment, attributing the speed deficiency to insufficient funding.
“It is important that we continue that effectiveness. It cannot happen when we continue to have construction that lags behind,” Rice said. “Even though our state legislators have fought for us tooth-and-nail to get us every single dollar, we still lag behind.”
Christopher Barclay, board of education member and member of the board’s Fiscal Management Committee, said the location of the news conference, a school with at least four portable classrooms, was chosen to highlight the extent to which schools exceed capacity.
“We’re going to have to build (onto it) to double its size. We’re going to have to deal with the fact that there are so many portables outside. Young people have to learn in these portables because there’s such growth in this community, such need,” Barclay said.
Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers said that within the budget, quality teaching and learning are important as well as appropriate school buildings.
“I really do want to thank our board for their leadership in making sure that the needs of our students are known and that we’re going to fight this year to make sure we have both the capital and the operating budgets we need in order to provide an appropriate school environment, as well as the proper, appropriate teaching and learning and quality teaching and learning in the classrooms,” Bowers said.
Bowers mentioned cultural proficiency in part of the five strategic priorities of the board of education for the 2015-2016 school year.
Concerning cultural proficiency, Bowers said, “It’s a lot more than learning; it’s having this appreciation for it. So the proficiency part of it is being able to make decisions based on it.”
Leventhal said the amount of funding that County Council gives to education will be affected by money it agreed to contribute to the new Purple Line transit line.
“We’ve already committed and promised the governor that we would allocate additional money for the Purple Line, and so that additional money competes against school construction, as well as other transportation and school infrastructure projects throughout the county,” Leventhal said.
Monday was the first day of later school start times. O’Neill said the board chose a20-minute pushback because several of the alternative options for schedule changes had “extraordinary” fiscal costs.
O’Neill said the board did not want to ignore reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that say later start times are healthier for high school students.
“We felt that it was appropriate to take a step in the right direction. Twenty minutes seemed like a compromise since there was no fiscal note connected with it,” O’Neill said. “Making a change even of 20 minutes is extraordinarily complicated.”
O’Neill said the board would “wait and see” and that it was too soon to tell how the new schedule would be evaluated.