Schools' capital budget proposed $39.8 million request may take persuading for county's approval

September 01, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County school officials say they think they can squeeze a few million dollars more out of the Gary administration this year to meet school Superintendent Carol S. Parham's proposed $39.8 million capital budget request.

But it's going to take some convincing.

"We're not going to be able to do as much as the superintendent would like us to do, and that's usually the case," John R. Hammond, the county's financial officer, said after he heard about the request last week.

Parham is to deliver her plan to the school board Wednesday. It calls for the county to issue $28.5 million in bonds to pay for projects and to spend $3.1 million in impact fees collected from developers.

About $6.5 million would come from state grants and the remainder from other county sources.

"I'm always optimistic," said Joseph H. Foster, the board president.

"I certainly hope that we can negotiate more than what the county has indicated they have."

Hammond said that the county can afford to issue no more than $14 million in bonds for school construction projects in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and that the school system "pretty much chewed through" impact and developer fees for construction projects in the current fiscal year.

Gregory V. Nourse, the school system's director of financial services, was undaunted.

"I don't think when they put the budget together, they are going to be hard and fast," he said, adding that the impact fees will be replenished in time to help pay for construction projects in 1998.

Parham called the new capital request, about $7.8 million less than she asked for last year, a realistic proposal.

In addition to such routine expenses as roof replacements and media center renovations, the large projects that top the list are $6.2 million to complete the construction of Ridgeway Elementary School in Severn; about $5.9 million to complete construction of Jacobsville Elementary School; and $3.5 million each to renovate and expand Fort Smallwood Elementary, Jones Elementary and Belvedere Elementary schools.

The elementary school renovation and expansion projects, along with the construction of a Meade Area Middle School, would be paid for in part by about $6 million in state grants, according to the proposed budget.

Also ticketed for partial state funding are an infusion of video and computer equipment at eight schools, and renovation of science laboratories at Glen Burnie High School.

The lower overall proposal this year reflects fiscal realities, school board member Thomas E. Florestano said.

"We got the message: The money ain't there," Florestano said. "The message from [Gov. Parris N.] Glendening and from [County Executive John G.] Gary and elected officials, particularly in this county, is tax cap.

"As far as the board backing away because Gary wants to take on construction, that by no means is the case."

Gary has put on hold his call for a county takeover of the school construction program, but he still plans to form a panel of administration officials with engineering and construction experience to take an "in-depth look-see" at capital projects and offer suggestions to the school system, said spokeswoman Lisa Ritter.

School officials say their budget proposal is more realistic, but Hammonds is not convinced.

Construction money for the Fort Smallwood, Jones and Belvedere projects isn't supposed to show up in budgets until 1999 and later, Hammond said.

"Apparently, what the superintendent wants us to do is slam them all up in 1998," he said.

"From a financial planning standpoint, that's a very difficult proposition," he said.

L Foster conceded that the proposal will take some explaining.

"I think we're going to have to spend some time on educating them on what the requirements of the schools system are," he said.

"They don't fully understand the urgency of moving some of these projects forward."

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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