Delegate Kathleen Dumais

Democrat, Maryland House of Delegates District 15

Video Shows Friction Between MCPS, State Delegation On School Construction Funding

A meeting this week with members of Montgomery County’s delegation to Annapolis and MCPS officials exposed some friction when it comes to the school system’s “I’m just saying, be realistic in your request,” Dumais told Starr. “Don’t set us up for failure. Work with us. We want to work with you. But you put us in this position and then say, ‘Ooops, you didn’t do it,’ and we’re getting the blame. That is not fair.”

She also criticized a school system press release from Nov. 17 that mentioned how last year’s push for state construction funding “fell through.”

“I read the press release and there’s like, something missing that is stark. What it doesn’t say, says a bill didn’t pass so you didn’t get any money, but that’s false,” Dumais said. “Montgomery County got $39 million in school construction money. You don’t mention that in your press release. That’s unfair.”

Starr responded by assuring Dumais that MCPS and the Board of Education are on the same page with the delegation. He also said Montgomery County legislators aren’t the only ones who face skepticism from officials elsewhere in the state.

He described a recent meeting of local school superintendents from around the state during which an unnamed official questioned Montgomery County’s need for the funds.

Starr also referenced the $1 billion school construction funding package the General Assembly approved for Baltimore City in 2013. That arrangement — which got the support of Montgomery County legislators — has been used by some as a reason for why Baltimore City legislators and others should return the favor to Montgomery County, which has the state’s largest school system growing at a rate of about 2,500 students a year.

“I do think that with the Baltimore City deal that was made a couple of years ago and understanding why it needed to be made, there is an expectation — and when I say, I’m talking kind of broadly, right — there is an expectation that the delegation or Annapolis can do something if it chose to,” Starr said.

The back-and-forth was a revealing look into the challenges the county’s delegation still face in returning from Annapolis next spring with state funding for a variety of MCPS capital projects.

Last year’s effort — which morphed into a joint funding proposal including Baltimore County and Prince George’s County schools — failed without enough support from elsewhere in the state.

After Starr responded to Dumais, District 16 Del. Ariana Kelly questioned if the county’s overall strategy for the funding package was specific enough. She also asked Starr to consider that county legislators are making their school construction ask in a much different political environment than what faced Baltimore City leaders in 2013. “When we go into Annapolis, we sound like jealous babies because Baltimore had more, better political timing than us and bigger balls than us to get what they wanted at the right time and we didn’t,” Kelly said. “We couldn’t, whatever you’re seeing it as, we’re coming in later at a much worse political time in a terrible political context with this huge revenue shortfall and a mandate across the state from the voters to roll back taxes, so we need to frame it in a way that sounds better than what you said to us when we walked in this room.”

At one point in the video, District 18 State Sen. Rich Madaleno joked, “I wish when Baltimore City was coming up with their plan, somebody had videotaped their strategy sessions.”

Following is a more complete transcript of the exchange between Dumais and Starr. Some sections have been edited out. The exchange starts around the 1:30 mark of the video and continues until the 6:34 mark of the video:

DUMAIS: I do not doubt the money is needed and required but I’d actually like to, and I like this sort of question and answer format. I also wanted to be really honest and I wanted to be sure that everybody knows what we’re facing and certainly my colleagues from the Budget Committee could probably answer some of these questions better.

I read the press release and there’s like, something missing that is stark. What it doesn’t say, says a bill didn’t pass so you didn’t get any money, but that’s false. Montgomery County got $39 million in school construction money. You don’t mention that in your press release. That’s unfair.

We constantly hear that ‘state delegation isn’t strong and doesn’t bring enough money back.’ But you know what, that doesn’t help us any. It doesn’t help us when we go to Annapolis and all we hear from our County Council and from members of, not necessarily specific members of the School Board, the general whatever it is, that Montgomery County doesn’t have a strong delegation. So cut it out. Just cut it out because that’s not correct.

The other thing, when you want to put us in the position of making all these [inaudible] requests, all you need to do is look at the Maryland Reporter yesterday and read Barry Rascovar’s article. Here’s what our budget problem is. We’ve got a $400 million deficit. That’s in this fiscal year and another $400 million the next. Here’s what some of the problems are.

[Dumais Reads from the article on her phone]

STARR: I will say, on behalf of the Board of Education and behalf of my administration, it’s always been a very positive [Dumais: Oh absolutely, I agree. I know] shared interest kind of conversation. I think we want to continue to refine that message so we still be on the same page.

I do think that with the Baltimore City deal that was made a couple of years ago and understanding why it needed to be made, there is an expectation — and when I say, I’m talking kind of broadly, right — there is an expectation that the delegation or Annapolis can do something if it choose to. …

…We have to figure out how to help our community understand what’s possible, what the reality is and what we will do within that realm of possibility and how we will collectively push the agenda. Because while we understand the realities, we also know that we’re not actually asking Annapolis for more money. We’re asking for the bonding authority alright, and that’s different.

So when we were in Annapolis, I told all of the superintendents the other day — I was quite frustrated frankly, at what one of the leaders said, will go unnamed, was that we had asked for $500 million, Montgomery County.

I did not push back on it and say, ‘No, we didn’t,’ because I didn’t feel it was appropriate but I said to the all the superintendents, ‘No we did not. We did not.’ People like to perpetuate — I’ll get on my soapbox for a moment here — but people like to perpetuate this idea of Montgomery County that A. We’re really wealthy and B. We keep asking for more and more. And I wanted to clarify with all my superintendents, we’re asking for the ability to bond. That’s what we’re asking for because we have more kids coming in than anybody else and we should be given that, that authority to do that. …

…We remain committed to, and that’s why we had this meeting and why we need to stay in close contact, we remain committed to doing this together, to show our community a united front and I do think our communities, our constituents and the people we serve do expect us as leaders to try to do something. And again I can’t account for how other people might talk about the issue.

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