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Montgomery, P.G. both looking for schools money

At least two Maryland counties are expected to go to Annapolis next year seeking additional money to pay for school construction and renovations in the wake of a unique agreement cut between the state and Baltimore city.

Officials in both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties say they will either seek or are considering seeking a similar arrangement that would allow each jurisdiction to more quickly fund an array of school construction and renovation projects over the next five to 10 years.

“I supported what the state did last session,” said Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett. “What happened last year was appropriate, and there was a tremendous need — and I said at the time that a ‘me, too’ moment would likely follow because of the extreme need in other areas of the state.”

Leggett said his school system expects to add nearly 11,000 students by 2018 — a pace of nearly 2,000 students annually.

Leggett compared the growth to “adding a new high school every year.”

Under a plan approved earlier this year, the city and state would combine to spend about $60 million annually for 10 years. That spending would allow them to leverage $1.1 billion in construction bonds issued by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

“The ‘me, too’ moment, especially for Montgomery County, is here now,” Leggett said.

Montgomery County plans to ask the state for $20 million annually for five years over and above what it normally receives from the current school construction money, which has amounted to between 11 percent and 15 percent of what is roughly a $250 million pot. The money, combined with local funds, would allow the county to borrow up to $700 million through the stadium authority.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, said that officials there heard repeatedly about the need for additional money for schools during a recent listening tour in advance of the General Assembly session.

Peterson said Baker and legislators are looking at the arrangement between the city and state but have not yet developed a formal proposal.

Del. Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County, who chairs the capital budget subcommittee for the House Appropriations Committee, cast doubt on the chances of funding school construction through the stadium authority.

“I don’t see the stadium authority doing this for Montgomery or Prince George’s counties,” Jones said, adding that she understands that there is a need to build and renovate facilities around the state.

“We could throw all of the capital budget at school construction,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of need, and we do a lot in terms of school construction but there are other needs as well.”

Not every jurisdiction that needs additional school construction money is looking to cut a deal like Baltimore city’s.

Baltimore County, which is also expecting growth in its school system over the next decade, also receives roughly the same amount of money from the state for school construction and renovation as Montgomery County.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he plans continue to press the state for additional funding over and above the current levels but disagrees with using state bonds to fund other borrowing.

“We’re not in the same situation as the city; we’re a different jurisdiction,” Kamenetz said. “We’re a triple-A rated county. We would not essentially borrow money to borrow money. That’s not the way we operate.”