The Montgomery County school board met last week in Rockville. Credit: File photo

The Montgomery County Board of Education again this year will ask the county government for money to install water bottle filling stations at schools.

A resolution, introduced by the school board last week, asks the Montgomery County Council for $200,000 to “purchase and install at least one water bottle filling station in all secondary schools that do not currently have filling stations installed.”

“It’s really about equity,” school board member Rebecca Smondrowski said. “We know a lot of our schools aren’t capable of raising outside funds … so just making sure we’re doing what we can to make sure everyone has equal access.”

The filling stations use filters that remove contaminants such as chlorine and lead and eliminate waste connected to using plastic water bottles, proponents say.

In a memo to school board members in May, Superintendent Jack Smith wrote that MCPS staff estimated the cost to install two filling stations at each school at $1.2 million.

The school board is expected to vote on the resolution on Jan. 9. If approved, the resolution would move to the Montgomery County Council for consideration to add the necessary funds to the proposed fiscal 2021 capital budget and 2021-2026 capital improvements program.

Last year, the school board asked the county for $2 million for two filling stations at each school in response to a 2017 water review that found elevated levels in some schools. The council did not approve the funding.

This year’s resolution is to be environmentally conscious, not because MCPS water is unsafe, according to MCPS staff members.

Last school year, MCPS spent approximately $415,000 on single-use water bottles given out during lunch. The school district purchased more than 3 million plastic water bottles, according to MCPS data.

“We know our water sources are fine. This is not … so much specifically about need, but it is about being environmentally friendly, as well as hoping we will eventually save up enough money it would eventually pay for itself by offsetting the cost of buying plastic bottles,” Smondrowski said.

At least 55 of the 208 schools in the district have filling stations, installed either during construction projects or through money raised by groups like parent teacher associations.

MCPS Chief Operating Officer Andy Zuckerman said that if the County Council approves the funding for the filling stations, “at some point there will be a tradeoff down the road.” Essentially, he said, if this project is approved, another project won’t.

“Something else will not get done, and that’s always the deal with the budget. There will be a tradeoff here would be my best guess,” Zuckerman said. “… It’s not a necessity, but it’s a nice thing to have.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at