Biting the Bullet on New Schools

January 25, 1994

There is no question about the need for the proposed Oklahoma Road Middle School. Overcrowding is severe at Sykesville Middle; its enrollment of 1,000 exceeds capacity by more than 200 students. Given the continued growth in South Carroll, the situation will only worsen.

Carroll County Commissioners Donald I. Dell, Julia W. Gouge and Elmer C. Lippy have recognized the problem and have agreed with the school board's decision to accelerate the project. Instead of beginning construction in fiscal year 1996, as originally planned, the proposed capital spending budget calls for construction to begin in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. The problem is deciding who should pay the estimated $12 million construction bill.

The commissioners would like the state government to pick up $6.3 million of the tab, but they are not having much luck persuading state officials. Last November, the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction turned down the county's request. Last week, a delegation from Carroll appealed that decision to the state Board of Public Works. The Carroll contingent was only able to make an abbreviated case, however, because Gov. William Donald Schaefer ended the meeting prematurely as part of the state government's efforts to conserve energy during the cold snap.

Even if the Carroll officials had been able to make a complete presentation, the result likely would have been the same: No state money will be set aside this year for the middle school. The harsh reality is that state government no longer has bundles of money to finance school construction. While Governor Schaefer

has added $15 million in extra school construction money (for a total of $75 million), it does not come close to meeting the needs in Carroll and the state's other fast-growing counties.

At this point, the best strategy for Carroll is to proceed with the Oklahoma Middle School construction. Thanks to its conservative borrowing patterns, the county has more than sufficient capacity to float the necessary construction bonds. The county should also continue its appeals to the state government. As the state's tax revenues improve, the county might be able to receive reimbursement for its outlay. Delaying construction of Oklahoma Road Middle School until the state can pay, however, is no longer a reasonable option.

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