School funding formula criticized

December 15, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Numbers alone shouldn't determine where to build schools, Carroll school administrators said yesterday to a state panel that decides how much money each county gets for school construction.

Armed with petitions from parents urging the state to pay at least some of the cost of building a new middle school on Oklahoma Road, Carroll officials criticized the formula the state uses to decide which projects get money.

"We believe the [formulas], particularly at the middle school level, are rather antiquated," said Vernon Smith, director of support services for Carroll County schools.

He said the formula is based on the old junior high school concept, in which areas such as the music room and gymnasium were used as homerooms. Middle schools don't use space that way now, he said.

Mr. Smith, Superintendent R. Edward Shilling and Lester Surber, supervisor of school facilities, testified before members of the Interagency Committee and their staff at the Maryland Department of Education in Baltimore yesterday.

They appealed a preliminary decision by committee staff to recommend far less money for building and renovating Carroll schools than county officials think they are entitled to.

The Interagency Committee makes recommendations to the state Board of Public Works, which will decide in the spring where school construction money goes. The Interagency Committee has about $75 million to allocate and $229 million in requests from counties.

After he testified, Mr. Smith said he was optimistic that the panel would allocate at least some money for the middle school, even if it isn't the $6 million originally requested. The estimated cost of the project is $12 million, with the county paying the rest of the money.

"I'm optimistic about Oklahoma Road," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Shilling said the South Carroll parents who asked him to deliver the petitions told him they contained 1,100 names.

The new school would ease crowding at Sykesville Middle School, which is more than 200 students over capacity and uses eight portable classrooms.

Although the county commissioners have agreed to pay for the middle school even if the state doesn't, Mr. Shilling said such a financial burden would leave the county less able to pay for future projects.

"This county has a limited ability to fund school construction," he said. "If it takes $12 million to build a middle school, that's [equivalent to building] 2 1/2 elementary schools."

The county does not automatically appeal state school construction decisions.

"We skipped the last two years because of the economic conditions we recognized were impacting on the state," Mr. Smith said.

"We have got to get back on track," Mr. Shilling said. The county's school enrollment is growing 600 to 800 students a year, and school construction is not maintaining that pace.

Of the several projects submitted by Carroll schools, the Interagency Committee's staff recommended only one, and even that one, renovations and additions to Taneytown Elementary School, was cut by $1 million.

Carroll officials asked for those funds to be restored. Dr. Surber told the panel that the formula used by the state does not take into account other circumstances that will boost Taneytown's enrollment once a new school is built. Several children in the Taneytown area attend other schools because Taneytown has no before-school and after-school day care.

Yale Stenzler, executive director of the Interagency Committee, told Mr. Smith that the committee's staff used the same numbers Carroll officials gave them.

"We're prepared to work with you if you want to show us some other ways of looking at it," Dr. Stenzler said.

Mr. Smith said he gave the state the figures requested on enrollment and projections but that the formula used to make decisions is faulty.

"You can't fudge the numbers," Mr. Smith said. "We just think that there should be a certain degree of flexibility in those numbers. [Dr. Stenzler] doesn't want to hear that. He's only interested in the numbers."

Two other projects Carroll officials backed were a new roof for Robert Moton Elementary School, at $107,000 from the state, and recognition of the need for renovating and expanding Elmer Wolfe Elementary School. Money for that project would come later.

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