State adds $4.5 million in school funding

Amount is largest of all Baltimore-area systems

Money for construction projects

Award also covers repairs, repayment for earlier work

Howard County

May 09, 2002|By Larry Carson and Michael Dresser | Larry Carson and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Despite the recession, Howard County got more additional state school construction money yesterday than any other Baltimore-area jurisdiction.

The $4.5 million in added state money will replace local funding for several school projects, giving County Executive James N. Robey several new options, according to Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director. He can reduce borrowing for the proposed $97.1 million capital budget, or he can pay for more projects, such as the postponed renovations to the Circuit Court building or the Blandair mansion.

Robey could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The action means Howard County will have received $73 million in state school construction funds over the past four years, roughly double the amount the county received during the previous term.

It is funding that is deserved, county legislators said.

"We are the fastest-growing county [in the Baltimore area] in the last census," said Democratic Del. Frank S. Turner, chairman of Howard's House delegation.

And although some critics charge that Gov. Parris N. Glendening's annual spring distribution of school construction money is politically influenced, "the bottom line is that school construction money is given based on merit," said Republican Del. Robert L. Flanagan.

"We and the county both are thankful for anything we can get. We need it," said school board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt.

The $4.5 million awarded by the state Board of Public Works yesterday is in addition to the $7.9 million promised in December. The new money includes $3.2 million to help pay for construction of Northeast Elementary school, near Ellicott City, which is due to open in August 2003.

The county also was awarded $653,000 toward renovations and an addition to Oakland Mills High, starting late this year; repayment of $585,000 for renovations done in 1995 to Stevens Forest Elementary; and $71,000 for repairs done in 1988 at Swansfield Elementary.

Apart from the $4.5 million, the county got $65,000 for repairs to older schools.

The increased Howard spending came as part of the final $50 million in school construction funds of Glendening's eight-year term.

The money allocated yesterday brings the state's bricks-and-mortar spending on education under Glendening to $1.62 billion, giving him grounds to boast that he has fulfilled a promise to the state's public schools.

"We have met or exceeded our commitment to providing students with state-of-the-art classrooms in which to learn and prepare for the knowledge-based economy," the governor said in a news release.

The money approved yesterday brings the state's spending for school construction this year to $156.5 million, less than in recent years but still generous for a time of economic downturn.

The state Board of Public Works approved $4.2 million in additional school construction money for Baltimore.

Baltimore County received a relatively small share of yesterday's largesse - $1.1 million for boiler projects at five schools. The county received more than $11 million in January, for a total of $12.5 million.

The city was far from the biggest winner in terms of new money but did better than the county. The $4.2 million it received yesterday, bringing its total for the year to $13.8 million, was sixth among the state's jurisdictions. The only major project receiving financing was the renovation of Southern High School, which received $3.5 million.

The biggest winners in yesterday's allocations were counties in the Washington suburbs and Southern Maryland.

Montgomery, the state's largest county, came in first with $9.9 million; fast-growing Calvert County was second with $5.9 million. Third and fourth were Prince George's, with $5.8 million, and Charles, with $5 million.

In the Baltimore region: Anne Arundel County received $2.1 million for a new Glendale Elementary School. Carroll County was allocated $3 million, $2.5 million of it for the renovation of North Carroll Middle School. It also received planning approval for $5.8 million toward the construction of an elementary school in Mount Airy.

Harford County was given $1.6 million for current projects and planning approval of $20.5 million for a renovation of North Harford High School.

In his news release, Glendening said the school projects his administration has funded reflect his commitment to Smart Growth. He noted that 79 percent of the school construction money allocated over the past four years has gone into areas designated for growth.

The governor got little chance to exult at the board meeting, where Comptroller William Donald Schaefer complained bitterly about Glendening's choices.

Schaefer suggested that the governor had put on his list school projects that did not meet the state's criteria for funding. But Yale Stenzler of the state's Public School Construction Program said all of Glendening's choices did qualify.

Sun staff writer Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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