Spending boost near for schools

March 18, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Sun Staff Writer

After years of complaints about overcrowding and under-spending, the Baltimore County Planning Board proposed last night a $34.8 million school construction and maintenance budget for 1994-1995, the largest in the county's history.

If approved by County Executive Roger B. Hayden and the County Council, the projects would eventually add 5,370 seats to the school system's capacity, said James E. Kraft, the department's capital planning manager.

By proposing a record amount for school projects, the Planning Board complied with an election year request from Mr. Hayden to give the school system top priority.

Mr. Hayden would not comment yesterday about the prospects for his approval. But after years of criticism from many quarters that not enough funds were being put into school construction -- and potential opponents already jumping on the issue -- Mr. Hayden is expected to go along with most of the recommendations.

The 1994-1995 school construction funds were part of a five-year capital program. The program also calls for an additional $125.7 million in bonds that voters would be asked to approve in November for the 1996 and 1997 fiscal years.

The overall plan emphasizes projects for senior citizens, projects to preserve agricultural land and waterways, and a variety of individual projects, including a new community center for Turners Station.

The school proposal calls for 200-seat additions to each of 10 elementary schools and $3.96 million to replace the decrepit Essex Elementary School, long a subject of community complaints.

There were also funds for an addition to the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, planning money for an addition to Perry Hall High, which is 398 students over capacity, and $11 million for roof repairs, major maintenance and asbestos removal.

"I just can't find enough superlatives to describe my feelings about the recommendations," Mr. Kraft said. "I researched records back before the 1950s, and if the $34.8 million is approved by county executive, it will be the most in the history of our school system."

In fact, the recommendation is for $2.4 million more than the Board of Education requested.

The money would come from a $46.1 million bond authorization approved by the voters in 1992. In past years, Mr. Hayden has been reluctant to borrow the money, even though the voters have approved it. For the fiscal 1994 budget approved last year, for example, he included only $10.46 million for school construction and maintenance.

He has argued that the recession and cutbacks in state aid have hurt the county's ability to service the increased debt through its operating budget and that authorizing additional borrowing under those conditions could endanger the county's Triple-A bond rating.

Instead, Mr. Hayden has relied mostly on state funds provided through the Interagency Committee for School Construction. But Baltimore County, where the political leadership has not been friendly to the Schaefer administration, has not fared well at the state level.

There was one major disappointment for the school system, the deletion of a $5.4 million request for a 300-seat addition to the overcrowded Perry Hall Middle School, the county's largest. Perry Hall, with 1,375 students or 131 overcapacity, is the largest middle school in the county. The addition would have replaced seven portable classrooms.

Beverly A. Morley, the planning department's capital budget coordinator, said the school system could address the problem by moving Perry Hall Middle School students to surrounding schools that are under capacity, a solution school officials and parents oppose.

"I hope that somewhere along the process, perhaps this project could be re-evaluated," Mr. Kraft said.

The county's long-range school building plan calls for a new 1,100-student Nottingham Middle School roughly between the Perry Hall and Middle River schools.

SPENDING HIGHLIGHTS

Highlights of the Baltimore County Planning Board's proposed expenditures on school construction for 1994-1995:

* $12 million for 200-seat additions to 10 elementary schools -- Chadwick, Summit Park, Deep Creek, Fort Garrison, Pinewood, Carney, Gunpowder, Joppa View, Baltimore Highlands and Halethorpe.

* $3.96 million to replace Essex Elementary School with a new building on the existing site.

* $2 million for an addition to the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, one of the county's new magnet programs.

* $7.1 million to replace and repair leaky roofs.

* $1.9 million in planning funds for an addition to Perry Hall High School, the renovation and reopening of Catonsville Middle School, and the renovation of Towson High. Those projects would begin in 1995-1996.

* $4 million for maintenance and asbestos removal.

* $800,000 for a cafeteria at Glyndon Elementary School, the only school in the county without one.

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