Howard school board debates capital costs for high schools

July 26, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

At a meeting where the Board of Education wrangled over the growing cost of additions to aging Howard High School, and heard from parents about urgent maintenance and capital construction needs at other schools, board members also approved monthly car allowances for three of the system's top officials.

"I cannot in good conscience support this," said board member Virginia Charles at last night's regularly scheduled board meeting, noting that the $560 a month each will receive could pay for training teachers in new reading techniques or hire an instructional assistant. "I opposed this two years ago. I still oppose it."

The motion passed 4 to 1.

The board approved car allowances for the deputy superintendent, chief academic officer and chief business officer after a lengthy discussion about a planned addition to Howard High School, which appears to be morphing into a costly full-scale renovation.

Crowded Howard High is scheduled for a 169-seat addition budgeted at more than $4 million. But after studying the 50-year-old school's needs, school construction officials presented the board last night with an option for renovations that would cost nearly triple that figure.

William Brown, the system's director of school construction and planning, said building additional space onto Howard's site has proven more difficult than anticipated because of storm-water issues and ill-placed underground utilities. But most of the extra costs are educational and related needs that the school is lacking.

"We're not talking about aesthetics. We're not talking about maintenance," Brown said. "We're talking about programming."

Board members complained that little money is available for even small renovations. And they grumbled more when Brown said that the addition originally planned for the school likely would cost at least $1.4 million more than budgeted.

Superintendent John R. O'Rourke suggested Brown and his staff return next month with more information for the board to make a decision.

After that discussion, board members heard from citizens about other building needs that likely would cost the system - and the county - even more.

At a public hearing concerning next fiscal year's capital budget, parents and community members asked the board for help with renovations at Glenelg High School, relief from crowding at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary and efficient use of Cedar Lane School, which will close soon.

School board candidate Courtney Watson asked the board to consider its capital needs more and add money to the budget to acquire sites for schools that are not planned.

"We need the ability to purchase appropriate, centrally located sites which meet the minimum acreage requirements when the opportunity arises, whether or not there is a new school in the budget," she said.

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