School crowding took center stage Tuesday at the first public hearing about the proposed construction plan for Montgomery County Public Schools.
It was standing room only at a public hearing about the school district’s capital budget and capital improvements plan (CIP), which total $1.82 billion. The budgets lay the groundwork for the MCPS construction plan over the next six years.
The budgets, proposed by Superintendent Jack Smith, take aim at crowded schools, aging infrastructure and minor repairs countywide.
Nine schools are tabbed for “major projects” and more than 15 others would get additions under the proposed budgets. MCPS staff members said the projects would add space for more than 14,000 students in the school district strained by ballooning enrollment.
This school year, the MCPS enrollment grew by more than 2,700, the largest one-year increase in more than a decade. The MCPS enrollment has grown by more than 11,000 students since 2010, solidifying the school district as one of the largest in the country.
And MCPS students are feeling the strain that increase has caused.
From Damascus and Poolesville to Gaithersburg and Bethesda, student speakers on Tuesday said schools are cramped, causing safety problems.
Neelsville Middle School, with an enrollment of more than 900 students, is so crowded, one hallway is designated as “one-way,” student Brianna Akuamoah-Boateng said.
“In years prior, one of the intersections was so filled that, not only did it cause countless stalemates, but it also became the perfect place for someone to get trampled and hurt,” Akuamoah-Boateng said.
Gabriella Chulick, a fourth-grade student at Burnt Mills Elementary School in Silver Spring, said her school is so crowded — it has nine temporary classrooms — that students are divided into groups to eat lunch. Some groups begin their lunch periods before 11 a.m., she said.
The temporary classrooms, she said, are too small and are often too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, making it difficult for students to focus.
Cameron Lang, a fifth-grade student at Stonegate Elementary School in Silver Spring, echoed Chulick. Lang said that on Monday, the thermostat in a school’s portable classrooms malfunctioned, and the indoor temperature dipped below 50 degrees.
“We had to wear our coats,” Lang said. “All of these problems make it harder to learn, especially with our difficult curriculum.”
Damascus High School senior Kate Lanham said there are disparities in the quality of schools across the county.
Hallways are so crowded, students get “stuck, unable to move,” she said, and the building’s general condition is deteriorating.
“When traveling to other MCPS high schools, the difference is obvious: large hallways, first-class sports facilities, modern classrooms, centrally located main offices and more,” Lanham said. “This makes one wonder that at a time when MCPS holds equity and equality up as values, if these values apply to Damascus High School as well.”
The second public hearing about the CIP is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the school district’s headquarters in Rockville.
The school board is scheduled to finalize the CIP in late November. The plan will then be sent to the County Council and County Executive Marc Elrich for consideration.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com