Ecker's Proposal Will Cover School Construction

$29.8 Million Slice Of Capital Budget Targeted

April 03, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

School officials who had worried about whether the county governmentwould pick up the state's tab on two planned schools can relax for the moment.

The $29.8 million school project section of County Executive Charles I. Ecker's 1991-1992 capital budget -- cut by $5.9 million from department requests -- will cover construction of schools currently planned.

This includes the northeastern elementary and western middle schools that suffered state financing cuts last week.

However, Ecker cut money for school planning by 10 percent and asked the Board of Education to begin building less-expensive, possibly smaller, schools.

He said the cut should save 10 percent in construction costs on future schools, since planning costs generally represent a percentage ofconstruction costs.

Ecker also slashed two-thirds of the $3 million the schools had requested for systemic renovations -- heating, ventilating and air-conditioning, lighting and electrical.

Unless theCounty Council restores some of the money, teachers and students whohave complained of upper respiratory ailments and inadequate ventilation are unlikely to get relief in the next fiscal year.

Sydney L.Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations, said hecould not immediately assess the impact of Ecker's cuts, but the $3 million figure represented cuts in requests for projects ranging fromplayground resurfacing to new ductwork.

"It's a double impact because we also cut some maintenance items from the operating budget," Cousin said.

School board Chairman Deborah D. Kendig said the boardwill try to find ways to cut costs without increasing class sizes orhurting the educational program.

"We'll scale back (building) size, or we'll scale back costs if we can. We won't scale back program,"she said.

She said she would oppose building school sizes to state standards -- 30 elementary students per classroom; Howard County builds for 25.

Kendig said her personal preference is for smaller schools, despite the school board's trend toward construction of largerelementary and middle schools and its endorsement of an increase in the size of future high schools from 1,200 to 1,400 students.

"Myargument would be that there is a point at which economy of scale nolonger holds," the board chairman said.

That's fine with Ecker, who said it is up to the school board to identify specific areas wherecosts can be cut.

"I just think the schools are costing too much.I think we can reduce costs without affecting the program," Ecker said.

He said one way might be larger schools, as suggested in his letter to County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray that accompanied the budget.

"I believe that the cost of construction of schools built in recent years has been higher than necessary. . . . I am asking theBoard of Education to scale back school size," the letter said.

In addition to the planning and renovation cuts, Ecker took $1 millionout of a school construction and land acquisition reserve fund. The cut leaves $1.2 million in the fund.

Kendig said that cut could bea problem, since the school system has no sites for the western middle and northeastern elementary schools, both scheduled to open in September 1993.

The board is also shopping for a site for the ninth county high school, to open in September 1994.

Ecker deferred to 1992-1993 a request for $335,000 to begin planning an environmental science center that would provide "outdoor education" programs for middle school students and would also serve the general public.


Category .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Cost

Education.. .. .... .. .. ..$29.7 million

Road construction.. .. .. .. 15.5

Water.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 15.2

Agricultural Preservation .. 15.0

General County.. .. .. .. .. 8.8

Recreation and Parks .. .. .. 8.4

Sewer.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 4.2

Intersection Improvement

& Controls .. .. .. .. .. .. 1.6

Community College .. .. .. ..1.0

Bridge Improvements .. .. .. .815

Libraries .. .. .. .. .. .. .701

Community Renewal.. .. .. .. 520

Storm Drainage.. .. .. .... 435

Sidewalks and curbs .. .. .. 311

Fire .. .. .. .. .. .... .. 190

Police .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..0

Road resurfacing .. .. .. .-.658*

*Money transferred for other uses.

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