State gives schools funds

County share exceeds last year's amount by more than $4 million

`That's wonderful'

Money will be used to modernize old, build new facilities

May 10, 2000|By Tanika White and Lynn Anderson | Tanika White and Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Clarification

An article yesterday should have made clear that Baltimore City schools chief Robert Booker and the city school board say that the governor, not just the General Assembly, shortchanged the schools on funds needed for classroom reforms.

The Howard County School District will receive $20.7 million from the state in school construction funds for 2001 -- more than $4 million more than last year's allocation, state officials announced yesterday.

Declaring a "platinum age" of school construction and renovation in the state, Gov. Parris N. Glendening committed $300.7 million to rebuilding older schools in established neighborhoods and bringing classroom technology up to modern standards.

The statewide total is the largest amount in Maryland's history, Glendening said at a news conference at Western High School in Baltimore. Howard's share is the most money it's received in several years.

"We asked for a lot more than that, but we're still happy with what we received," said Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations.

Since the election of Democratic County Executive James N. Robey in 1998, Howard County has received almost double what the district got the previous two years -- $36.7 million as opposed to almost $20 million. And that amount is more than the county received in the four years before Robey's election, when Republican Charles I. Ecker was county executive.

Critics have complained that, under Glendening, the allocation system has become political. Howard County officials said as recently as February that Glendening, a Democrat, had been partisan in distributing money and that Howard, in particular, had received less than it deserves. In the first five years of Glendening's term, Howard's proportion of the total in state construction money dropped 4.1 percent compared with its share during Gov. William Donald Schaefer's last five years.

Glendening has said that politics does not play a role in how much money school districts receive.

Cousin said the recent installment of state money will go a long way toward funding the plethora of construction that has to be done in growing Howard.

"It allows a lot more flexibility in using state money in combination with local monies to fund some of these needy projects," he said.

The state money is designated for 34 school district projects. Construction on the new Alternative Learning Center, scheduled to open in fall 2001, is one example. The state is offering more than $2 million to assist that project.

Other projects for which the state has allocated money have been completed, such as the building of Lime Kiln Middle School, which opened this year. The state is giving about $1.2 million for Lime Kiln. Cousin said the district will pay back the county for many of those "forward-funded" projects.

Glendening said he hopes to provide a total of $1 billion to schools for badly needed upgrades such as new windows, doors, science labs and high-tech wiring by the end of his second four-year term in January 2003. During his first four years in office, the state contributed $633.5 million to school systems for capital improvements.

"That $633 million allowed us to add and to modernize 6,000 classrooms across the state of Maryland, to reduce class size, deal with overcrowding and bring schools up to the standards of the 21st century," he said.

Across the nation, it's the same story: Aging schools are ill equipped to meet modern classroom needs such as high-tech wiring, telephone connections and air conditioners to keep computer equipment cool. Recently, a report by the National Education Association, which represents about 2.5 million educators, estimated that public schools in this country will need $322 billion to renovate and modernize their classrooms.

In Maryland, the push to repair dilapidated schools has been helped by a booming economy that produced a nearly $1 billion budget surplus this year. The money to pay for the capital projects Glendening announced yesterday will come from cash reserves, federal bonds and tobacco restitution funds.

In February, the state Board of Public Works approved $193.4 million in school construction funds. The board plans to add $97.5 million to that sum at a meeting today. About $9.8 million in federal bonds will bring the total to $300.7 million.

Projects added to the school construction program include Mayo Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, which will receive $2.4 million. Gunpowder Elementary School in Baltimore County will receive $1 million. Atholton Elementary School in Howard County will receive $1.9 million.

Topping the state's list with the largest sum of school construction and repair money was Montgomery County, which will receive $51.2 million for 79 projects during the next school year.

Baltimore City will receive $46.8 million for 118 projects and Prince George's County will receive $46.5 million for 52 projects.

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