Capital budget under the knife Howard County: Ecker should leave decisions on school construction cuts to board.

February 07, 1997

THOUGH HE SITS at the head of Howard County's fiscal table, Charles I. Ecker should consider passing the carving knife before he trims the fat from the overly optimistic capital budget requests his administrators have submitted to him.

Top county officials are asking for $94.1 million to fund projects such as road and school construction, public works projects and building renovations. County Executive Ecker has indicated that plans to lop off as much as $20 million before he submits his capital budget to the County Council this spring.

But Sandra French, chairwoman of the Board of Education, fears that some cuts may sabotage the school system's new technology magnet program just as it gets going.

The program is in its inaugural year at Long Reach and River Hill high schools and could expand to two more schools next fall. Technology magnet students will rely heavily on the school system's Applications and Research Laboratory, which will be housed beginning this fall in the building formerly known as the Howard County School of Technology on Route 108.

The school board has spent $2.8 million to renovate the ARL and plans to spend another $2.6 million next year. Ms. French says renovating the building is the board's top priority for next year. "It's essential to the success of the technology magnet program," she says.

Other school projects also would be affected. The proposed renovation of Mount Hebron High could be scaled back considerably, and planned additions to five other schools over the next few years are in jeopardy.

Ms. French must realize that the schools will not get everything they want. Parents and teachers also realize this, which is why large numbers from various communities sought to convince Mr. Ecker at a budget hearing that their projects were critical.

The executive will have his hands full deciding how much to allocate to road construction projects, capping the Alpha Ridge Landfill and interchanges on busy highways.

The school board has made a big investment in the technology magnet program. Mr. Ecker would be wise to follow a pattern he established in the past and let the board take a last whack at trimming school construction and renovation costs itself.

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