School Construction

We need more schools. This is not just an issue in Gaithersburg – it is a county-wide and even a state-wide issue. There is not nearly enough money to build the new classrooms we need. So what do we do?

A recent county conference focused on infrastructure needs, mainly on schools but also on transportation needs, and a number of creative approaches were presented that impressed me and much of the audience. There is a lot of empty office space – can we use office buildings for classroom space? Alexandria Virginia has used this kind of creative thinking to reduce costs for adding classrooms and it’s working – we need to get there in Montgomery County, too.

I worry about an attitude that has been expressed at the infrastructure meeting and that I’ve heard from some of our officials as well – we are a wealthy county and we should just raise more money from taxes. This, despite the fact that we have one of the higher tax rates in the country.

Here is how I view the issue. If you were running a growing business, the best way to fuel growth is to reinvest your profits. A business that pays dividends is reducing its investment in its own growth.

At the government level, the balance is between investing in infrastructure and in services. Services is like paying dividends, and infrastructure is like reinvesting in growth.

The key is to strike the right balance. You can’t just keep taking money out of investments and increase dividends and expect growth to continue.

I’m not saying that we only do one or the other. I’m not looking at a political party playbook. We need services, and we need infrastructure. We need to take a hard look at the balance and make sure we are not short-changing our future by over-spending in services today. We need to put more money into our schools and transportation needs to facilitate growth.

And MCPS needs to look at how it spends its budget. There seems to be more money going into administrative costs over time when there is an enormous need for capital investment. MCPS cannot expect to keep receiving extra funding from the state each year – it needs to accept the need for re-prioritizing its own budget to meet the needs of our children.