County officials plan to seek more state money for schools

January 11, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Howard County school and government officials will go to Annapolis next week to appeal for more state money to build and renovate schools.

Their trip comes a month after the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction awarded the county $4.6 million for new schools and renovations in fiscal 1995, far less than the $42.3 million the county had requested.

The $4.6 million, which goes to complete River Hill High School, "falls far short of meeting their obligations for our needs," said Sydney Cousin, associate superintendent in charge of school construction. "We're certainly eligible and should receive the additional funding."

School and local officials, including a handful of delegates and an unknown number of County Council members, will seek more money Jan. 19, in an appearance before the state Board of Public Works in Annapolis.

That three-member panel, composed of the governor, the state treasurer and the state comptroller, has final say over how much state money the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City get for school construction.

At least 15 counties are expected to appeal for a greater share of the $81 million the state is expected to set aside for school construction in the 1995 fiscal year.

Howard County school officials will appeal the interagency committee's decision to deny reimbursement for the following projects:

* $1.4 million in building costs for the $11.8 million northeastern middle school set to open next fall near Elkridge Elementary School. The county in April received $2.5 million for the project after appealing to the state Board of Public Works, but had asked for a total of nearly $4 million.

* $8.9 million in construction money for the eastern high school in Long Reach. The roughly $25 million school is due to open in fall 1996 to relieve crowding at Howard High School.

* $10.2 million in planning and renovation money for Wilde Lake High School, a more than $20 million project due to start this summer and take two years to complete. Wilde Lake students temporarily will attend River Hill High School during construction.

* $2.4 million to renovate various older schools.

The interagency committee that initially denied funding includes the state secretary of general services and the state school superintendent, among other officials.

Yale Stenzler, head of the interagency committee, said the committee was uncertain about the scope and necessity of some of the county's proposals. The Wilde Lake project, for example, involves the demolition of a building that is just 20 years old, and "we have some concerns about that," he said.

But Dana Hanna, Howard County school board chairman, defended the county's overall request.

"We have a very large need, due to the number of schools and the growth we're having," he said.

The 34,300-student school system expects to enroll 1,500 more pupils a year for the next 10 years -- a predicted increase in student population of nearly 40 percent over that period.

Setting aside enough money to build schools may prove difficult in the future without greater state reimbursement. An 18-member task force recently recommended that, without a tax increase, the county should limit new debt to $25 million a year. But in fiscal 1995 alone, the school system has requested $41 million in capital projects.

State government typically pays for half of school construction and renovation costs.

But Howard County, along with Montgomery County, uses a method called "forward funding," under which local government foots the entire bill of school construction and asks the state to pay its share later.

If the state decides not to fully fund the county's request the county can either deny the school system's request or "fund it anyway, with the hope that, in the future, the state will reimburse us," said Raymond S. Wacks, county budget administrator.

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