Budget office urges delaying school projects School board head calls proposals 'just unacceptable'

'Lack of understanding'

Administration calls for redistricting, questions forecasts

March 01, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County budget officials say the rebuilding of two elementary schools in the crowded Pasadena corridor should be delayed from next year to 1998.

They also recommended yesterday delaying the construction of seven schools and that no county money be spent on school construction planning next year, angering school officials and legislators from the northern part of the county.

School board President Joseph H. Foster called the proposals "just unacceptable."

"It shows a total lack of understanding of what is really needed," he said.

Del. Joan Cadden, a Brooklyn Park Democrat, said the recommendations discredit her efforts to get state money for the projects.

She said she had worked hard to get state funding for the projects that would be delayed, and added, "It undermines the hard work that has been put forth by the entire delegation."

Raymond Elwell, a county budget analyst, told the Planning Advisory Board the school board's proposed $47.6 million capital budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 should be cut to $32.1 million because the request would push the county debt too high.

He recommended delaying projects to replace Jacobsville Elementary School and to expand and renovate Fort Smallwood Elementary School in Pasadena.

He also recommended pushing back to 1999 the start of work on a Brooklyn Park Middle School, an addition and renovations at Jones Elementary School and renovations at Belvedere Elementary School.

In addition, Mr. Elwell called for eliminating a project to reopen Adams Park Elementary School in Annapolis and dropping plans for a middle school in the southern part of the county.

Administration officials have argued that county schools have enough capacity to relieve crowding if the school board would redistrict to shift some children to schools that are under capacity. And they question the reliability of school population forecasts.

School board members have said it is unfair to students and unwieldy to continually redistrict schools to meet population shifts.

Yesterday, the Planning Advisory board, which makes budget recommendations to the county executive, decided it needed more information about school needs before voting. Newton Gentry III, chairman of the board, said members might decide that "the education of children is important" and advise the executive to lop off county government projects instead of school projects.

Ronald L. Beckett, associate school superintendent for business and management, said the recommendation to eliminate planning funds "puts us in a situation where we will have no projects in position for state funding in fiscal '98."

Ms. Cadden and others in the county legislative delegation have been lobbying officials for state construction money for Jacobsville Elementary School and for planning approval for Brooklyn Park Middle School.

The Brooklyn Park project is necessary to allow sixth-graders in the northern county to attend a middle school and to relieve crowding in several elementary schools, Mr. Foster said.

School board critics say the Andover building, which was renovated into a middle school, has nearly enough capacity to accommodate all northern county middle school children.

The Jacobsville and Fort Smallwood projects were designed to go together, so that an addition and renovation at Fort Smallwood Elementary would take more than 100 students from the crowded Jacobsville school, which has a dozen portable classrooms.

Mr. Twombly said that if the county wants to delay school construction in Pasadena and in southern Arundel, it also should halt development.

County Executive John G. Gary is to deliver his capital budget for the coming fiscal year to the County Council May 1. The council must adopt a budget by May 31.

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