Council Upset At School's Cost

BUDGET WATCH 91 -- Where do all our dollars go?

North County High'sprice Expected To Run Another $6.3 Million

May 09, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

Even though more than half of the County Council members are new, they continued to question school board members about an old issue -- North County High.

During the first meeting between school officials and council members to discuss next year's capital budget, what began as an amicable exchange became heated when council members were told that the actual cost for the school is $6.3 million more than the original estimate.

North County High, now housed at Andover Senior, was the school board's answer to program inequities at Brooklyn Park and Andover -- once the two smallest high schools in the county.

Council members agreed to the merger after paying the McKenzie Group, a Washington-based independent educational consulting firm, $150,000 to study the proposal. Students from the two schools began attending classes togetherin September.

Council members George Bachman, D-Linthicum, and Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, were visibly upset about the unexpected increase in cost for the project.

"That $11.4 million was sold to the people of North County," Bachman said. "There is no way possible it can be built for that. I think people were given a bad sell job.

"They're saying they've been lied to too much, they want what's been promised to them, a school with a capacity of 2,000. Now all of a sudden, they're hearing that it's down to 1,650. Those people up therewere not getting the same education that the rest of the people of Anne Arundel County were getting."

Mike Raible, the school system'sdirector of planning and construction, said $11 million would produce a school without a stadium or auditorium, no industrial arts or driver's education and four lunch periods because of a small cafeteria.

Increases are blamed on higher construction costs due to modifications and increased asbestos cleanup costs.

"A scaled-back version is right back where we started," Bachman said. "The people are angry because they are not getting the whole story. If we do anything, we should learn lessons from what we did with Broadneck. That school was built with no auditorium, then we had to add one. By God, why are we doing it again with North County High?"

County Executive Robert R.Neall's $16.8 million capital budget included only $2.8 million for the project in next year's budget. School officials requested $9 million for next year.

"I'm not too comfortable with that amount," School Budget Officer Jack White said. "We need a lot more than that to do anything. If the $2.8 million is funded, we can't do anything. We will just have to save the money and not proceed with it."

School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton said the $11 million represented a bare-bones assessment of what was needed.

"The Board of Education asks staff what they should be asking the staff, 'What's the cheapest way to do this?' " Lorton said. "No one has said it is acceptable."

Lorton and his staff gave top priority to $250,000 to replace and reinsulate boilers containing asbestos parts or are as much as 60 years old.

Other school safety projects top the list, including asbestostesting and reinspection, removal of underground storage tanks, roofreplacements and handicapped accessibility. North County High is 10th on the list but is the first major project that is not a health andsafety issue.

Council members will continue discussion of the capital budget and begin looking at the operating budget during a session scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today. A public hearing on the entire school system budget is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Arundel Center.

Neall has proposed an overall $341.7 million operating budget for the Boardof Education, representing an $11 million increase over current spending levels. Board members originally requested $353 million.

The school system represents 55.4 percent of the county's operating budget.

The board's request for 97 new teaching positions, including 33for special education, was cut to 25 for general education and 10 for special education. School officials project an additional 1,500 students in September.

Nineteen vacant Board of Education positions have been eliminated in the budget, including 10 custodians and other non-teaching positions not filled because of the countywide hiring freeze this year.

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