Council reproaches school board for its $382 million request Educators told they're living in 'fantasy world'

October 29, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Members of the Anne Arundel County Council told the school board last night that it was asking for more construction money than can be provided, unfairly raising hopes that many neighborhoods will get new schools.

At the joint meeting at school system headquarters on Riva Road, board members replied that the $382 million they are seeking for renovation and construction projects the next five years is desperately needed.

Renovation of schools was severely underfunded during the 1980s, said board President Thomas Twombly. During that decade, the county provided $100 million a year for capital projects, yet the school system received only about $15 million each year. Now the school system is paying the price, he said.

"Infrastructure is crumbling, especially at the elementary level," Mr. Twombly said. "That money, the $30 to $40 million [a year] looks enormous. But it's because we got so far behind on our infrastructure."

Rising enrollment led to the need for new schools to relieve overcrowding, board member Joseph H. Foster said. "We can't just ignore the need and pretend these students don't exist," he said.

Board members expressed concern that school facilities will not be able to keep pace with growing development in parts of the county. "I know we need growth because of the tax cap," Mr. Twombly said. "But we have to be very careful where the growth occurs."

But council members countered that the board's expectations regarding school construction were unrealistic, given the cap on property tax revenue.

During this year's budget process, the school system requested $105 million for its projects, but County Executive Robert R. Neall did not want the capital budget to exceed $100 million for the entire county.

The board eventually received $43 million of the $99.6 million capital budget that was approved.

The board is seeking $88.4 million for capital projects for the 1995 fiscal year, which begins next July.

"Your intentions are good, but you're living in a fantasy world when it comes to funding," Councilman Carl G. Holland, a Pasadena Republican, told the board.

The board's long list of priorities, which contains building projects for the next five years, puts undue pressure on the council, which can fund only a few of them, he said. "The signs go up and the banners go up, and then we say, 'We can't give it to you because we're under some constraints,' " Mr. Holland said.

Councilwoman Maureen Lamb pointed out that the school system has fewer students now -- 69,298 -- than it did 13 years ago, when enrollment was 70,114. She questioned how, if millions have been spent on school construction since then, the system could now be in crisis.

Michael Raible, director of the school system's division of planning and construction, said space is used differently now.

Schools currently have to set aside space for programs like special education, kindergarten classes and computer labs, he said.

"We also don't have double sessions . . . like we did in the 70s," Mr. Raible said.

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