Ecker to set aside extra $9 million for school upgrades, construction Money will close gap left by state funding shortfall

May 01, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker yesterday announced he would set aside an additional $9 million for construction of new schools and upgrades for existing schools -- including $2.3 million he had cut out of a budget requested by school officials.

The funds will include $6.6 million to fill a funding gap created when state construction money announced earlier this month was less than requested.

Ecker said school officials can allocate the extra funds as they see fit -- but specified that the money cannot be used to plan a new high school. The budget must be approved by the County Council.

'Glad to have it'

"We're glad to have it," said Sydney Cousin, associate school superintendent in charge of finance and operations. "This will allow us to do many of the things we want to do but not all the things we requested."

The schools' current $29.6 million capital budget is the result of months of juggling proposals and counter proposals by county and school officials.

In September, Howard County Schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey requested a nearly $34 million capital budget, but Ecker's request to the County Council provided $27 million -- $20 million of which was to be provided by the state.

State contribution

But, when the state announced its contribution of $13.4 million -- the largest state allocation for Howard school construction in more than 20 years, though less than requested -- Ecker immediately said he would try to make up the funds somehow.

Said Ecker, "The state did not give us what they should have, in my opinion."

Although the $9 million Ecker added yesterday more than made up for the state's shortfall, the current budget remains about $4 million less than what school officials asked for last fall.

Possible reductions

To make up that difference, school officials will eliminate planning money for a new high school -- eliminated by Ecker's budgets -- and will likely not fund such projects as classroom partitions and a site construction reserve fund, Cousin said.

What is less clear is which items school officials will fund with the $2.3 million returned to the budget, Cousin said.

Among possible additions are funds for construction of two middle schools set to open next fall and upgrades on some of the county's aging elementary schools.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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