Finding a way to build schools Community panel provides good opportunity to study needs, funding.

March 05, 1997

FACED WITH a tightening of the state spigot for school construction funding, Carroll County is taking the responsibility to find local means to pay for new school facilities. A 12-member commission has a deadline of April 7 to complete its report to the county commissioners, all the better to focus its attention and energies.

This is the kind of broad-based inquiry that should have been required two years ago, when two of three commissioners approved a 16 percent increase in the county piggyback income tax, earmarked for new schools. They needed a community panel to examine various financing means and student population projections.

The aim was to build eight new schools by 2001, based on the assumption that the state would pay for 65 percent of the construction cost.

That was a flawed assumption, which has borne bitter disappointment to Carroll County. Although state money for school construction is at an all-time high, statewide requests are more than double the amount available.

The result has been delayed funding and partial funding for approved new schools by the state Interagency Committee on Public School Construction, which makes the allocation decisions.

State priorities favoring renovation instead of new facilities have also not worked to Carroll's advantage; only $1 million of $6.8 million requested has been authorized for Francis Scott Key High School, despite the project's prior approval by the state agency.

The earmarked piggyback tax generates about $8 million a year. Despite the political allure, repeal of that tax increase before its expiration in 2001 is not practical.

The commission must look at that tax revenue as an important source of school funding, although not the only source. A combination of financing through general budget revenues and municipal bonds will also be needed.

The commission is also charged with maximizing the use of existing space. That's not an easy task as Carroll is forced to use more than 100 portable school classrooms to handle the pupil overflow. But a good faith effort from the facilities panel could help to steer the county toward an informed decision on financing its education future.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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