State commits $300 million to improve schools

Glendening says funds will renovate, update old structures

Montgomery gets most

May 10, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF


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.

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

"Our actions here today move us into the 21st century in a major way so that teachers can teach in the most modern schools in the entire country," Glendening said during a news conference at Western High School in Baltimore. "The over $300 million total is the largest amount ever in the history of the state."

Glendening said he hopes to provide $1 billion to schools for such things as new windows, doors, science laboratories 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 nationwide will need $322 billion to renovate and modernize their classrooms.

In Maryland, the push to repair dilapidated schools has been helped recently by a booming economy that produced a budget surplus of nearly $1 billion budget this year. The money to pay for the capital projects Glendening announced yesterday will come from cash reserves, federal bonds and tobacco settlement 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, which will receive $1 million, and Atholton Elementary School in Howard County, which will receive $1.9 million.

Montgomery County will get the most school construction and repair money, $51.2 million for 79 projects during the next school year. Baltimore will receive $46.8 million for 118 projects, and Prince George's County will receive $46.5 million for 52 projects.

Glendening's announcement brought smiles to the faces of Baltimore officials, who had asked the state for about $41 million to help rebuild and modernize schools, including some in the city's oldest neighborhoods.

"It's more than we asked for," said Robert Booker, chief executive of the city schools.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said the school repair money will help "make the city a better place and attract young families."

Much of the city's $46.8 million will be spent on wiring and updating electrical capacity at more than 80 schools. The money also will go toward buying 11 school boilers and repairing roofs at half a dozen other schools.

Booker and the city school board say the General Assembly shortchanged the city on other funds needed for classroom reforms. The district wanted $49.7 million for summer school, expanded kindergarten, arts, music and other programs.

In Baltimore County, where many schools were built before the 1970s, school officials will receive $39.6 million, about $2.2 million less than what they asked the state for.

"Certainly it changes the timing for some of the work that needs to be done," said John A. Hayden, a member of the Baltimore County Board of Education.

Still, school board members said they were pleased that the state was able to bolster the county's school renovation plan, which aims to funnel about $530 million to aging schools during the next three years.

"That's wonderful," said board member James R. Sasiadek. "It will enable us to move ahead on a number of projects."

Halstead Academy, an elementary school in Hillendale, will receive the largest piece of Baltimore County's share of state funds, about $1.3 million, to pay for new doors, wiring, and heating and plumbing systems. The school was built in the late 1960s and is in need of an overhaul, said Principal Carolyn L. Smith.

"If we don't do improvements now, we could have larger problems later," she said.

One Baltimore County school seemingly left out of the state's funding plan yesterday was 70-year-old Stoneleigh Elementary School, which needs renovations including a new cafeteria. School officials had asked the state to provide $350,000 for the project.

Other counties to receive funding include Anne Arundel, with $20.5 million for 75 projects; Harford, with $9.5 million for nine projects; Howard, with $20.7 million for 34 projects; and Carroll, with $6.8 million for five projects.

Sun staff writers JoAnna Daemmrich, Michael Dresser and Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

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