Executive seeks to shift money to schools Ruppersberger wants more construction funds in bond referendum

August 05, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Alarmed by predictions of severe crowding in Baltimore County high schools, the Ruppersberger administration is seeking to make last-minute changes in favor of school construction in the $137.5 million bond referendum that will be on the November ballot.

If approved by schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione when he returns from vacation today, and by the County Council tonight, bond money would be shifted from other needs and added to the $66.6 million allocated for school borrowing.

The county expects to get another $32 million for school construction from the state during the two-year period covered by the bonds.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said he wants to move now to confront the problems predicted in a consultant's report -- that by 2005, the county will have 4,400 more high school students than seats for them -- and not wait to play catch up.

"Education is clearly one of our highest priorities," Ruppersberger said.

Any extra bond money for schools would be shifted, in as yet unannounced amounts, from the other eight bond issues on the ballot for needs such as roads, bridges, parks, community colleges, county buildings, farmland preservation, economic development and waterway improvements, administration officials say.

Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz said he and the administration want to address high school crowding now, rather than wait two years until the next bond issue is put before the voters. "It seems logical," he said. "For once we're doing the right thing."

School crowding has been a hot issue in the county, but more so at the elementary level where years of frustration and anger brought passage of a law in 1990 prohibiting new development around primary schools more than 20 percent over capacity.

The law hasn't solved the problem. Instead, several county administrations have found themselves caught between the demands of parents for more schools and better building maintenance, and of developers for an end to the moratorium law.

But a combination of more county and state money and predictions of declining elementary enrollments by 2000 is expected to ease that part of the crisis. And the consultant's report suggested shifting emphasis from elementary to high school projects.

The bond money subject to the November referendum would become available next July, but it is not yet clear what projects the extra money would address.

An addition at Perry Hall High School is under construction, and planning funds were approved for another at Dulaney High in Timonium. Renovations -- costing $15 million to $21 million each -- are planned for Towson, Kenwood, Catonsville and Sparrows Point high schools in the next four years.

School officials requested funds for several 500-seat high school additions this year, plus a $25 million high school in Owings Mills -- but all were denied for lack of money.

Additions typically cost $8 million to $10 million. They had been sought for Chesapeake and Patapsco high schools in the southeast, Franklin and Pikesville high schools in the northwest, with a smaller one for Towson's Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

The Franklin and Pikesville projects are scheduled for 2000. The others -- including the northwest high school envisioned for land owned by the school board on Lakeside Boulevard west of Owings Mills mall -- are not included in the six-year, $262 million school capital budget.

The council also will consider four proposed charter amendments at its meeting -- the last one scheduled before an Aug. 19 deadline for approval of ballot questions to appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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