$16 million designated for schools

Governor announces area's share of aid for construction

`Treated very well'

Two new buildings, renovation, additions included in package

May 13, 1999|By Michael Dresser and Erika D. Peterman | Michael Dresser and Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Howard County schools will get $16 million in state construction money next year, helping to pay for two new middle schools and additions and renovations to others.

The money, announced yesterday by Gov. Parris N. Glendening as Howard County's share of a statewide package of $257 million, was more than the $13.4 million the county received this year.

Schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said he was "very appreciative."

State officials previously had allocated Howard $9.8 million; yesterday's announcement of an additional $6.2 million brought the total to $16 million.

The school system's total capital budget is about $29 million, including county bond funds.

"As long as our capital budget is funded, I don't care what the source of the money is," said Hickey, who had hoped for more state money. "The [county] executive has assured us that our budget will be funded."

Among the school system's more ambitious construction projects are a renovation of Harper's Choice and Glenwood middle schools, renovations and additions at Mount Hebron High School, renovations at Howard High School and additions at Talbott Springs Elementary School.

Some of the state money also will be used to build the Lime Kiln and Bonnie Branch middle schools.

County Executive James N. Robey said the results were "better than I hoped."

"I built my budget around $15 million in state school construction money, so this is wonderful," Robey said. "We were treated very well."

He noted that one of the projects authorized was the reconstruction of Ellicott Mills Middle School, which he attended in the mid-1950s.

Robey said the school was "uncomfortable then and unbearable now."

"I'm obviously very pleased with what the governor has done here," said Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray. "It's more than we expected."

School officials have talked often of the county's growth and the money needed to accommodate the swelling ranks of public schools, some of them old. At a public hearing last year, many parents complained of malfunctioning heating/ventilation/air-conditioning units and the need for additions.

Officials have predicted that the school system will have 6,732 new students in the next 10 years, a 17 percent increase.

The overall budget will fund renovations and additions at dozens of area schools in what Glendening is calling a "Golden Age of school construction."

The money is largely being directed toward improvements at existing schools -- a "Smart Growth" approach that favors metropolitan jurisdictions.

Baltimore City will get $25 million, a $7.5 million increase over this year. Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger received the full $30 million he requested. And Carroll County officials were the happy recipients of $8.2 million -- including $6.7 million toward construction of a high school in the fast-growing Eldersburg area.

But two of the clearest winners were Anne Arundel and Howard counties, jurisdictions that replaced Republican county executives with Democrats in November.

Anne Arundel, historically a laggard in the grab for state school construction money, received a record $13.2 million -- a 42 percent increase.

Ruppersberger, Robey and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens were among those on hand for the Democratic governor's news conference yesterday at Laurence G. Paquin Middle-Senior High School in Baltimore. Paquin will be getting $1.6 million for an addition.

Owens said she had hoped for more money -- though she acknowledged that her $15.2 million request was deliberately aggressive.

Nevertheless, the $13.2 million allocated by the governor put Owens on a course toward exceeding her stated goal of $50 million in state aid over four years.

"It's Christmas for Anne Arundel," she said.

Glendening frequently has been criticized by opponents for using the allocation of school construction funds for political leverage.

"I think this administration too often plays politics," said Howard County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western Howard Republican. "I'm glad we got a little more money, but it should be given out based on need rather than politics."

As he has done before, the governor hinted yesterday that jurisdictions whose legislators opposed his budget might have received less favorable consideration than others.

At the same time, he denied that the generous increases for Howard and Anne Arundel were connected with their swing to the Democrats last November.

"I don't think this is about Republican and Democrat," said the governor. But with a grin, he nodded in the direction of Owens and Robey and seemed to suggest otherwise.

"It hasn't hurt being a Democrat," Owens said later.

With a booming state economy, enough money was available to keep even heavily Republican counties happy.

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