Surpluses for schools

Anne Arundel: Extra money from the county's budget should find its way to aging buildings.

May 03, 2000

THE COUNTY has a lot of money on its hands. That's good. Aging county school buildings need infusions of cash to if they're to become suitable for children.

Anne Arundel Budget Officer John R. Hammond estimates the county will have a $40 million surplus when this fiscal year ends June 30. County Auditor Theresa Sutherland says the extra cash could reach $50 million.

Both figures seem hefty, but they are only a fraction of the costs the county must spend sooner or later on school buildings.

County Executive Janet S. Owens took office 16 months ago staring into a $400 million hole of need for school buildings. Anne Arundel has 43 public school buildings that are at least 40 years old. Many old buildings have gone decades without good maintenance.

Glendale Elementary School in Glen Burnie is an example. When School Superintendent Carol S. Parham asked the state Board of Public Works to approve funding for county schools, she pointed to 50-year-old Glendale. The building needs about $3 million of work, including a new boiler, plumbing fixtures, carpets, lights, a fire alarm system, ceilings and windows.

Ms. Owens chipped into the problem last year with a one-time, $40 million capital expenditure for schools, but many aging buildings still need the repairs like those sought for Glendale.

The surplus gives the county executive another opportunity to make school buildings suitable.

Ms. Owens is moving in the right direction by using $58 million of her $1.1 billion operating and capital spending plan, which includes a 4-cent property tax increase, for school repairs.

Ms. Owens has other capital costs in her budget, including a new regional library to replace the woefully small building in Odenton. But deteriorating school buildings are the most pressing budgetary issue. School facilities got too little attention in the past. The surpluses of recent years give Anne Arundel a chance to play catch-up on a critical need.

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