Spending state surplus on schools Huge needs: Demands for classrooms, science labs, technology, require larger outlay.

November 20, 1997

GOV. PARRIS N. Glendening could be sitting on a $311 million surplus by the time the General Assembly receives his budget in January. There is no better way for the governor to spend that one-time excess than on Maryland's public school construction program.

The need is there, as fast-growing counties try to cope with overflowing classrooms and older subdivisions scramble to maintain antiquated buildings.

Over $330 million in school-construction requests have been made by the state's 24 subdivisions so far. They run the gamut -- renovations, extra classrooms, brand-new schools, technology additions, modern science labs and pre-kindergarten facilities. But only $141 million has been targeted by the governor at this stage of the budget process.

That's not good enough, especially in a year of plenty. So far, a mere $19 million in pay-as-you-go spending has been designated for school construction next year. The rest would come from state bonds.

Given the outlook for a huge surplus, Mr. Glendening should re-evaluate his budget allocations for school projects. This is the time to substitute cash for school-construction bonds and to greatly enlarge the pot.

Every jurisdiction in the Baltimore-Washington region could use extra help. Rapidly growing counties, such as Montgomery ($69 million requested), Howard ($37 million), Harford ($10 million) and Carroll ($11 million) are targeting new or expanded schools; Prince George's ($50 million) seeks a string of neighborhood schools as it tries to end court-ordered busing; Anne Arundel ($10.6 million) and Baltimore County ($31.8 million) need a combination of renovations, expansions and new schools, and Baltimore City has a $20 million list of renovations and maintenance requests.

Budget surpluses are best used on one-time expenses, and school construction is an ideal investment for such funds -- one that would have a high pay-off. It would be foolish to issue costly bonds -- paid off over 15 years -- when the state could avoid all interest payments by using available surplus cash instead.

Mr. Glendening has made education his top priority as governor, including spending over $400 million on school construction in the past three years and a shift in emphasis from new schools to renovations and expansions. He should seize this rare opportunity to help counties and the city improve their school facilities.

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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