Some on the Montgomery County Council signaled a fight may be brewing over Montgomery County Public Schools’ recommended operating budget for next year, released today.
At issue is the recently strengthened state maintenance of effort law, which requires counties to fund their school systems at the same level as the previous fiscal year or face fines and reduced state aid. Schools superintendent Josh Starr today presented a recommended budget $10 million more than what’s required for maintenance of effort.
With funds tight, council members have countered funding schools at maintenance of effort level could already mean a 4.9 percent cut in other county services.
“Our analysis shows we’re looking at a five percent reduction if MCPS is funded at maintenance of effort level,” said Councilman Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) today, during a review of the county’s six-year fiscal plan. “This draconian maintenance of funding law handcuffs the county’s ability to deal responsibly with its fiscal challenges. It would not make sense at all for the county to further handcuff itself by voting to fund the schools above the maintenance of effort level. We can’t make one-time investments.”
MCPS presented the $10 million in question differently, pointing out that it was less than 0.5 percent over the minimum. It also argued the money was necessary to deal with a school system that has grown by 11,000 students since 2008 with staffing levels that have remained flat.
“After years of cutting around the edges and doing more with less, it is time for us to invest in areas that will have the biggest impact on student achievement and success,” Starr said in a statement. The total MCPS recommended budget is $2.217 billion, an almost $49 million bump from last year.
Projections in the fiscal report the Council discussed today said without the maintenance of effort law, overall cuts would have been limited to one percent.
Flickr photo via Montgomery College
The Sierra Club this morning named the Purple Line as one of the 25 best transportation projects in the country, which local transportation activists are using to promote the unfunded project.
In its report of “50 Best and Worst Transportation Projects in the United States,” the influential environmental group identified the Purple Line as one of 25 projects that would reduce oil consumption, increase safety, improve public health and save money for taxpayers and commuters.
The proposed east-west 16-mile light rail that would connect Bethesda with New Carrollton via Silver Spring and College Park is projected to cost $1.9 billion. The system is expected to carry 68,000 passengers per day.
With the state’s transportation fund dwindling, county officials have openly doubted whether the project will ever happen.
That’s part of the mission behind tomorrow’s state transportation summit in Annapolis, organized in part by County Councilmembers George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park and Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac). Berliner last month said he hopes to examine a number of options — including a long-debated state gas tax — with officials from across the state.
This morning, Ethan Goffman of the Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club presented Purple Line Now President Ralph Bennett with a copy of the report at what supporters hope is the future Bethesda Purple Line station.
“Transportation infrastructure we build today will be with us for decades,” Bennett said in a prepared release. “The Purple Line is exactly the kind of infrastructure we need as part of a 21st-century transportation system that increases our choices.”
“Climate change is with us, it will get worse, and transit is the best antidote,” Goffman said. “If we’re serious about fighting climate change, we must build the Purple Line soon.”
“This project will help make getting to work, school, shopping and recreation without a car easier, make walking and biking in our city safer, and increase access to transit,” said Tina Slater, president of the Action Committee for Transit. “We should heavily invest our transportation dollars in this kind of forward-looking project.”
Flickr photo by thisisbossi; photo via Action Committee for Transit
The Defense Department will provide Maryland with $18.3 million for work on a Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road intersection improvement project, members of the state’s congressional delegation announced today.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Senators Barbara Mikulski (D) and Ben Cardin (D) said the grant is the second of four they expect to be awarded to the state for traffic-mitigation issues around the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The Maryland Department of Transportation got a $7.3 million grant in September for a BRAC-related intersection upgrade at Old Georgetown Road and West Cedar Lane.
The State Highway Administration will manage the $23.1 million project.
Statements from Van Hollen, Mikulski and Cardin follow:
“Our community is proud to be the home of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In order to make sure it is a world-class center of excellence for our veterans, we must ensure patients, families, and base personnel are able to access the facility. We must also reduce BRAC-related congestion in the surrounding community,” said Congressman Van Hollen. “This funding will help do just that. It’s a win-win for everyone and key to making a successful transition at the new Walter Reed.”
“I fought in the Senate to BRAC-proof Maryland’s bases, now I am working to BRAC-ready our transportation systems. Our troops fight overseas to protect our freedom, they shouldn’t have to fight traffic to get the care they’ve earned when they get back,” said Senator Mikulski, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee which funds the Department of Defense. “The Walter Reed National Military Center at Bethesda will be the frontline in delivering care to our wounded warriors. I am proud to partner with my Team Maryland colleagues to make BRAC a success and secure the federal funding needed to meet the increased demands on our community.”
“This additional funding will make a difference for the thousands of wounded warriors and their families who will use the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as well as Montgomery County’s beleaguered commuters,” said Senator Cardin. “As a delegation, we have been united in our efforts to ensure federal support for the expanded medical facility and the tens of thousands of new military and civilian jobs being brought to our state through the BRAC process. I am pleased that we will be able to provide much-needed road upgrades to improve safety and reduce BRAC-related congestion.”
Photo via TrafficLand.com
The residents of the Willard apartments in Chevy Chase have faced a pair of five percent rent increases since last fall, and they are unhappy Montgomery County’s voluntary guideline for a 2.8 percent rent increase last year seemed to go unnoticed.
A few dozen Willard residents made up a group of about 150 renters who met Monday night in Bethesda as part of the emerging Montgomery County Renters Alliance. They heard from and questioned state and local leaders on how to establish some form of rent stabilization and other measures to protect renters.
They heard back that despite figures showing renters make up 30 percent of the county’s population, politicians in Annapolis and Rockville rarely hear from organizations arguing on their behalf.
“All of the good sentiment in the world isn’t going to mean anything unless we’re organized on a daily basis. Landlords, god bless them, have lobbyists that are in Annapolis every single day of the 90-day session,” said State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Silver Spring-Takoma Park). “There are issues that affect apartment owners every single day there and there are issues that affect the tenants every single day there but we don’t have an organized lobbying presence of the tenants.”
Montgomery County’s implementation of a downcounty Bikeshare network shouldn’t be affected by equipment delays in other cities despite the use of the same vendor, said Department of Transportation manager Sande Brecher.
The Washington Post reported last week that expansion of the popular Capital Bikeshare system in D.C. slated for this fall was pushed back because Portland, Ore.-based vendor Alta Bicycle Share couldn’t provide enough equipment. Other cities using Alta, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Nashville, have had to delay their Bikeshare networks because of a technical glitch.
Brecher said she’s received no indication that the county’s spring and summer rollout of 29 downcounty Bikeshare stations (11 of which will be in Bethesda) will be affected by the needs of other cities. Alta officials did not return requests for comment.
“We’re aware of it. We don’t anticipate that’s going to cause a lot of issues,” Brecher said. “I think the reason it did for D.C. was they were ready to roll. We’re not there yet.”
A $2.4 million budget appropriation will be introduced today (Tuesday) at County Council that if approved would allow the DOT to place the order for the downcounty Bikeshare equipment. The public hearing for the appropriation is scheduled for Jan. 15 at 1:30 p.m.
A grant from the state of Maryland accounts for $1 million of the appropriation. The required county match of $252,000 was raised through private donors including developer Chevy Chase Land Company. The remaining roughly $1.1 million will be provided through membership fees and the Mass Transit Facilities Fund.
The County Council has shown strong support for the Bikeshare program, unanimously approving a pair of measures that will make it easier to develop Bikeshare stations and divert part of the developer’s transportation tax into the project.
Brecher said the DOT has a list of potential sites (mostly around Metro stations) for the Bikeshare stations but that a final list won’t be ready until funding is approved.
“We’ve been doing a little bit of that. We’re talking with some of the folks,” Brecher said. “The formal push on that can’t happen until we have the funding for the Bikeshare consultants and also our engineering folks to go out and look at sites.”
Flickr photo by kaszeta
30 Whitman Students Cited For Underage Drinking at Party Hosted by Parents — About 80 Walt Whitman High School students were at the party, including a number of athletes who have been suspended for at least one game of their winter seasons. Police were made aware of the party when one student had to be taken to the hospital. [The Black & White]
Company Passed On Bethesda Headquarters Because of Lack of Restaurants, Parking — Intelsat, the leading broadcast satellite company that last week announced its intention to move its headquarters to Virginia, reportedly nixed Bethesda because it felt parking would be too difficult and there aren’t enough restaurants and other amenities. [Washington Business Journal]
Schools Boss Says U.S. Needs 3-Year Moratorium on Standardized Testing — At an education panel discussion, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr said standardized testing was an ineffective way to measure the quality of teachers. [Washington Post]
Starr Submits Budget $10 Million Over Requirement — Also yesterday, County Council President Nancy Navarro (D-East County, Mid-County) said MCPS’ proposed budget is $10 million over the amount the county is supposed to fund according to state law. The Council has indicated it will not agree to more than the requirement, which it says will put funding in other areas at serious risk. [The Gazette]
Film Festival Deadline Extended — The deadline was yesterday, but the Bethesda Urban Partnership decided to allow entries into its first-ever documentary film festival until Jan. 4. The festival is in March.
Flickr photo by IamJomo