Officials appeal for more money to build schools Only $2.2 million of $37 million granted

January 28, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

County and school officials appealed to the state Board of Public Works yesterday for more money to build schools, after being given only $2.2 million of the $37 million they had requested.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, along with County Executive Charles I. Ecker and school board Chairman Dana Hanna, asked for more money to help pay for the new western high school and three new elementary school projects.

The money Howard County was awarded this year is about $4 million less than they received last year. School officials say they have had to delay renovation projects and spread out school construction plans because of lack of state funding over the past five years.

"As you might well imagine, although not all of us are growing, the ones that are -- Howard, Harford, Frederick counties -- we are having a difficult time," Mr. Hickey said in an interview. "And the counties that aren't growing, they have buildings that are growing older. The state hasn't been able to keep up."

Decisions about how much money a county gets for building schools are made by an inter-agency committee for the state School Construction Program. The committee is composed of the state secretary of general services and the state school superintendent, among others.

The state has about $300 million in requests and can only give out about $60 million this year, Mr. Hickey said.

The state awarded the county $2.2 million in December to help pay for the cost of building another elementary school in the northern part of the county. But school and county officials want at least $8.7 million more to help build the new western high school, scheduled to open in 1994 as a temporary school for Wilde Lake High School. The county has paid two installments for the school, which could cost as much as $25 million.

"It's going to be hard for the county to fund that," Mr. Hickey said. "But we have to have the school. We really need that state money next fiscal year."

The school system expects about 1,500 additional students each year and has scheduled to build an average of two schools a year until 2000 to accommodate growth.

County Executive Ecker said he is not sure whether the county can keep up with the schools' two-schools-a-year building plan. He said he was waiting as school officials look into other options, including year-round schools.

"I don't think Howard County can maintain its bond rating to maintain building schools," he said.

The $37 million school officials originally requested this year was to pay for nine new school construction projects and to reimburse the county for 14 already paid-for renovation and addition projects.

Last year, the state awarded the county $5.6 million, although the county had asked for about $26 million. That money went to pay for an addition to Oakland Mills High School and for building Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville and Rockburn Elementary School in Elkridge. Both schools are scheduled to open next year.

School board Chairman Hanna says the problem lies with the General Assembly, which determines how much money to set aside for the state school construction fund.

"I am absolutely dissatisfied with what the state has," he said. "I don't think Howard County has been a stepchild in the entire process, but the bottom line is, the pot of money does not in any way, shape or form represent the needs of the state school system."

The state has not been able to fully fund school construction since the late 1960s and early 1970s. While the lack of state funding has not jeopardized any school project, it has caused delays in school construction and has put greater pressure on the county to fund building costs.

School officials say they probably won't find out whether they received additional funding until as late as April.

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