- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast released a budget plan yesterday that calls for nearly $1 billion in spending to build, renovate or update schools.

“This is just to get us back on track. It isn’t a leap forward,” Mr. Weast said.

His plan calls for the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget to rise $319.1 million to $956.2 million for 2005 through 2010.

Under the plan, the system would gain 10 schools — five of them new and the other five reopened. The project also would build additions on 21 schools, build gyms for 33 elementary schools that lack one and perform repairs on many others.

With more than 17,000 county students in mobile classrooms, Mr. Weast said the extra spending would cut the number of such facilities from 689 this year to 309 by the 2009 school year.

“We’re trying to keep up; the facilities are necessary for us to keep up,” Mr. Weast said. “We can’t do that with mobiles.”

He said many schools are so overcrowded that lunch must start at 10:30 a.m. so students can eat in shifts.

Mr. Weast said adding bathrooms is another high priority, because many students are uncomfortable in the overcrowded restrooms.

Montgomery County has the largest public school enrollment in Maryland, with nearly 139,000 students this year. It is the 12th-fastest-growing school system in the United States, with enrollment expected to hit 144,800 in 2008.

Mr. Weast said the extra money can come from a mix of county bonds, state aid, a tax the County Council approved Tuesday for new homes, and the directing of all of last year’s increase in the recordation tax to schools.

“This amount is fundable, and it’s buildable,” he said.

Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said although the budget might be a concern, the school system “can’t afford to wait.”

“The children are here now; the buildings are aging,” Mrs. O’Neill said.

Michelle Yu, the president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, said she thinks the plan does not seek enough money, but she called it “a first strong step” toward fixing some of the school system’s most serious shortcomings.

“We need adequate spaces for the kids who are here now, for the kids that are coming and for the programs that our community is committed to,” Mrs. Yu said.

At the budget-plan release at Bells Mill Elementary School in Potomac, she displayed a T-shirt with the slogan “Just Build It.”

Meredith Walters, who has a son at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, said she is “very happy” about the planned repairs, but says more work is needed.

Mrs. Walters — the Seneca Valley Cluster PTA coordinator — said even if the Board of Education approves the plan, her son’s school will need more classroom space andstill will have air- and water-quality problems.

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