County Schools Chief Asks State Comptroller to Correct ‘Misstatements’ on School Construction Costs

County Schools Chief Asks State Comptroller to Correct ‘Misstatements’ on School Construction Costs

Bowers said Franchot overstated construction costs at Nov. 9 event

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Comptroller Peter Franchot (file photo)

Aaron Kraut

The interim superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) wants a correction from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who at an event earlier this month criticized what he characterized as higher-than-necessary school construction costs in the county.

Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers sent Franchot a letter last week in which he said Franchot “erroneously commented that MCPS spends ‘$500 per square foot’ on our capital projects.”

“In addition, you quoted a conversation with our ‘head of construction’ that I have been unable to determine where, when or with whom this conversation took place,” Bowers wrote. “I am concerned about the inaccuracies about our capital costs and would appreciate if you would correct the misstatements you have made about our district.”

Franchot’s comments, made Nov. 9 at a meeting of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, were recorded by the Parents’ Coalition, a group of county residents that labels itself as a MCPS watchdog group.

“We’re paying almost $500 a square foot to build schools in Montgomery County,” Franchot said. “They just completed one that looks like the National Museum of Art, it’s so beautiful, in Alexandria, for $250 a square foot.”

Bowers said that since 2007, MCPS construction costs have averaged between $212 a square foot and $297 a square foot, rates that are consistent with school construction costs in other Maryland and Virginia school districts.

Bowers also said school system construction projects have been 100 percent on-time and within budget “for more than 15 years.”

The controversy comes as MCPS is trying to obtain more school construction funding for a school system growing by about 2,500 students a year. Bowers last month recommended a $1.72 billion capital budget for the next six years that would keep already planned projects on track, add 10 classroom addition projects and build a new elementary school in the Clarksburg cluster.

The projects would be dependent on county and state funding.

The Nov. 9 event wasn’t the first time Franchot, who lives in Montgomery County, has expressed concern with the way the school system allocates money in its capital budget. Franchot, one of three members of the state’s Board of Public Works, said at the group’s meeting on Nov. 5 he’d like to see more efficient school construction spending.

A spokesperson for Franchot said Monday that the comptroller “happily takes the school system at its word” about school construction costs in the county, “but the larger point that he was making [Nov. 9] was about the urgent and escalating need for affordable, high quality school facilities and the opportunities that exist to deliver modern, safe learning environments at dramatically reduced costs.

“With limited resources and critical needs, we have to continuously find ways to get better results out of the precious taxpayer dollars we’re putting in to our key priorities,” the spokesperson said in a written statement. 

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