Financing Schools with Wishes

May 11, 1995

When the state Board of Public Works awarded Carroll County $2.9 million for school construction, local officials were elated even though it was millions less than the county requested. Some $2 million in state money will finance the construction of the long-needed Oklahoma Middle School. The board awarded another $886,000 for the design and construction of a new Elmer Wolfe Elementary. Holding their collective breath for state money to come through, however, is a precarious way for officials to plan school construction for the county.

The money allocated for Oklahoma Middle is about one-third the amount school officials had hoped to obtain. Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll Democrat who chairs the House's Capital Appropriations Subcommittee and was instrumental is obtaining the money, believes that the balance can be obtained next year. With his increasing political power in Annapolis, Mr. Dixon should be able to deliver on funding for Oklahoma Road. Obtaining comparable funding for other Carroll schools may test even Mr. Dixon's considerable clout.

Carroll is one of 24 subdivisions competing for state school construction money. Some counties, most notably Montgomery County, are seeking reimbursement for local dollars already spent on schools. Other fast-growing jurisdictions, such as Charles and Carroll, rely on large infusions of state cash to build new schools to accommodate burgeoning student populations.

If there is an abrupt cut-off in state aid -- as in the early 1990s -- Carroll's ambitious school building program could grind to a halt again. Carroll must devise a plan to use more of its own money to build schools. Montgomery and Harford counties have followed this strategy, enabling their school building programs largely to keep pace with booming student populations. The largest drawback to forward-funding is that state reimbursement often comes years after construction is completed.

Carroll is so behind in its construction program it often must add portable classrooms to new schools almost as soon as they open because they reach capacity so fast. The county will be on shaky footing if its continues to base its school construction program on the availability of state money. If schools are to be built in a timely fashion, the county needs to rely more on its own resources.

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