Schools told to cut request

March 17, 1995|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown pressed school officials to reduce construction costs at a meeting yesterday to review the Board of Education's capital improvements request for 1996.

"The commissioners have committed to building eight schools in six years, with the county totally funding half of them," Mr. Brown said. "If it's total county funding, I want control of the construction process."

The commissioners will be able to pay for more schools because they will raise "impact fees" collected from new home development and may raise the county's "piggyback" income tax, levied in addition to state income tax.

Mr. Brown suggested the county could act as general contractor on the projects, which traditionally have been advertised for bidding.

"Does the county have the staff available to do that?" Superintendent Brian Lockard asked. Commissioners did not say, but suggested the school board and commissioners explore all possibilities.

One method school officials already are considering is having the next three elementary schools built at the same time, by the same contractor, from a single design. Not counting Elmer Wolfe, which is to be rebuilt, the next elementary schools will be in southeast Carroll County, Manchester and Westminster.

Vernon Smith, director of school support services, said architects and engineers with whom he has spoken said that process would save money.

Mr. Brown also suggested that the class-size guidelines for middle schools be raised to 28 students per teacher, instead of the current 25. But even under current guidelines, middle school classes have grown to almost 28 students, and school officials are requesting more teachers next year to reduce the class size.

"We'd like it to be 25 or less. Sorry," Dr. Lockard told Mr. Brown firmly.

The commissioners and school board spent little time talking about $125,000 the board requested for a portable double classroom to be placed next to Westminster High School for a day care center for babies born to girls still in high school.

The purpose of the center -- proposed by a coalition of social services, education and health officials -- is to keep the young mothers in school. Statistics show that 73 percent of girls who have babies drop out of high school, proponents of the center have said.

But commissioners have said they don't have the money, and school board members didn't push for the project, even though it remains on the official request. The school board will vote April 12 whether to continue to support the project.

Board member Carolyn L. Scott, however, told commissioners she was leaning against asking for money for the day care center.

"If it can be done elsewhere, we're certainly not opposed to that," Ms. Scott said. "It would be better to provide school funds for students we've already got here. We will continue to provide educational services for the mothers and fathers."

Ms. Scott said she has received a few phone calls from residents who oppose spending money to provide space for the day care. Operating costs would be covered by fees paid by the parents and grants.

The list of more than 30 projects amounts to an original school board request of slightly more than $30 million, although that figure included about $7.7 million requested from the state, which pays half of some projects the county approves.

County budget staff members have recommended cutting the school request to about $20 million, with about $9 million coming from the state. Capital requests from all county departments came to $72 million for next year, with staff recommending only about $54.6 million worth of projects.

Both figures include state contributions, bonds, money from impact fees and local tax revenue.

Some good news was that the state agreed to pay another $900,000 toward building the new Elmer Wolfe Elementary, said Mr. Smith, who heard from state officials yesterday. That is $375,000 short of what the schools requested, but $900,000 more than the original state allocation based on renovating the existing school.

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