Schools are an important issue for many voters in the upcoming county elections, in particular overcrowding in Montgomery County Public Schools. In an effort to understand 2018 candidates’ positions on the use of *placeholders in the MCPS capital budget, members of the Bethesda Elementary School PTA sent a survey to all County Council and County Executive candidates. Below are the results. See their complete responses here.
*Placeholders are funds designated in the budget for TBD school projects that MIGHT be built. They are used to avert building moratorium that would otherwise prevent continued development where schools are forecast to be severely over capacity.
* Voted for CIP
|Do you support the use of |
placeholders in the Capital Budget?
|No||Yes||Yes, with more limits||No reply|
|County Executive Candidates (7)|
|District 1 Candidates (9)|
|District 2 Candidates (5)|
|District 3 Candidates (3)|
|District 4 Candidates (2)|
|District 5 Candidates (3)|
|At Large Candidates (38)|
More About Placeholders
Public schools are overcrowded across Montgomery County. One (controllable) factor is ongoing approval of new residential development at a pace faster than MCPS can build new classrooms and/or schools.
According to the MCPS FY2019 Budget and FY 2019-2024 Capital Improvements Program, by the 2023-24 school year:
- 65 out of the 133 MCPS elementary schools (49%) will be over capacity
- 12 of the 40 MCPS middle schools (30%) will be over capacity
- 17 of the 25 MCPS high schools (68%) will be over capacity
While MCPS has claimed for years that student population increases are due to turnover in single-family homes, the reality is that development of new multifamily housing in Montgomery County’s recently urbanized areas, like Bethesda and Silver Spring, is contributing an ever-larger proportion of students in already crowded schools.
Montgomery County policy dictates that schools with enrollment reaching or exceeding 120% of capacity in the 5-year forecast trigger a residential building moratorium in their service areas. However, since 2010, the Montgomery County Council has used “placeholders” in the budget – unplanned capacity projects for selected school – to avert building moratoriums where they are most undesirable to County planners.
Placeholders have historically failed (with one exception) to deliver projects in the 5-year time period as promised. Development often moves at a much faster pace than MCPS can build classrooms or new schools and frequently school additions open only to see enrollment exceeding capacity at astounding rates. Furthermore, placeholders compete with other MCPS facility needs and can contribute to delays in other schools’ capacity and/or modernization improvements. Placeholders are utilized to meet development objectives, not school capacity needs, and while the ramifications may be difficult to measure, there’s evidence that placeholders undermine the County’s efforts to keep up with our growing student population.
In an effort to understand candidates’ positions on the use of placeholders in the MCPS capital budget we reached out to the candidates and tabulated their positions. Please note that this information does not constitute an endorsement of any particular candidate.
Siva Anantham, Vice-President, Bethesda Elementary School PTA
Katya Marin, BCC Cluster Rep, Bethesda Elementary School PTA
What is a placeholder?
Placeholders are funds the Council sets aside on paper for school projects that MIGHT be built, but haven’t even been planned. Placeholders aren’t REAL funds for REAL projects.
How are placeholders used?
The Council uses placeholders to circumvent the County policy meant to ensure that adequate school facilities are available before more development is approved. Placeholders prevent building moratoria in areas with overcrowded schools. Using placeholders allows Council to green light development resulting in more students in already overcrowded schools.
Why are placeholders a problem?
Placeholders are used to circumvent the County policy meant to ensure adequate school facilities are available before new development is approved.
Placeholders mean many overcrowded schools don’t get additions, urgently needed renovations and repairs are delayed, and schools in high-growth areas are overcrowded with no real solutions planned.
What is a building moratorium and why does 120% matter?
MoCo’s Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP) is meant to ensure that adequate public facilities exist before more development is approved. Under the SSP, if projected enrollment at a school will be 120% capacity or more (meaning 20% more students than seats) the school area goes into moratorium. That means multi-family residential projects can’t be approved until there will be enough space in schools.
Is opposing placeholders anti-development?
No. A moratorium doesn’t stop development. It is intended to pause development to give MCPS time to plan and build new schools or additions.
Placeholders are a solution for developers, NOT a solution for schools. In reality, placeholder projects don’t get built in time to relieve overcrowding.
MCPS needs funding from the County to build space in schools to keep up with development and continually increasing enrollment. MCPS needs REAL schools, not placeholder projects. Montgomery County needs representatives that will fund real school construction projects, not hypothetical projects.