School board adds to budget

Panel recommends funds for new building, repairs

Additional $8 million tacked on

Wish list is compiled

council to have its say

October 16, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

As long as we're dreaming, we might as well dream big.

That was the overriding theme at last night's Howard County Board of Education meeting, during which members theoretically granted the wishes of those begging for new schools by tacking an additional $8 million onto the already staggering $78.4 million in the proposed capital budget for fiscal year 2004.

The additional money would be needed to fund an array of building projects that the board discussed at the meeting, including:

Increasing the size of an addition at Manor Woods Elementary from 150 seats to 200.

Building an elementary school in northeast Howard (to open in August 2006).

Bumping Northern Elementary School's opening date up two years to August 2006.

Adding money to find sites for several new schools.

If the budget is approved as passed last night, three new elementary schools would open in 2006, and the fiscal year 2005 proposed capital budget would have to total $112 million to accommodate the construction.

It was a night of wishful thinking. School board member Sandra H. French wished someone would take into account the looming state requirement to provide all-day kindergarten.

Superintendent John R. O'Rourke wished everyone would consider what is best for the children, and Deputy Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin wished he could make schools bigger to begin with.

Of course, everyone's big wish - the one only a genie could grant - is that Howard County did not have its crowding and subsequent redistricting problems.

"That is the agony of all of us," French bemoaned.

At the end of last month, O'Rourke unveiled his proposed capital budget and capital improvement plan, asking for a 41 percent increase, compared with the current budget of $55.6 million. Obtaining that will not be easy, much less getting it with last night's additions.

And the board's desires were only the half of it. Many community members voiced their desires.

Northfield Elementary is so crowded, plastic bins line the halls for storage, and pupils take violin lessons on the cafeteria stage during lunch. Its parents and teachers desperately want the 200-seat renovation in the proposed budget to go through, but they question whether it's enough.

"We hope we get our renovation," Northfield PTA President Carolan Stansky told the board during the public hearing phase, "but we think you need a new school."

Many agreed, pushing the board to go for it at the end of the night.

Parent after parent stood to ask for new schools to relieve crowding and delay the endless redistricting.

"We need to stop this game of musical chairs," said Hollifield Staion PTA Vice President Margie Humm. "Instead of our motto being `no child left behind,' perhaps it should be `no child left standing.'"

At Triadelphia Ridge Elementary, volunteers have no office; instead they work from a single file cabinet in a closet. Its representatives asked for expansions to the cafeteria, media center and gymnasium.

Mount Hebron High School, which shuttles students off campus for some sports practices, pleaded for the new athletic fields that the budget provides.

"Those fields are deadly needed," said Mark Cates, a Mount Hebron teacher.

Howard High School parents wanted their school's projected renovation on time and done right, and Oakland Mills High School needs a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

Everyone who spoke was armed with compelling data or rationale to justify their requests.

"I wish we could do it all," French said. "But somebody has to prioritize, and that's what we [the board] have the joy of doing."

The main objective of the meeting was approving the proposed budget so it could get started on its long road to acceptance by the County Council, which won't happen until late May 2003.

Although board members were full of unanswered questions and still more potential amendments, they had to shove the document through this first stage with the quick changes, and console themselves with the knowledge that they get to revisit it twice before it is out of their hands.

"That's the good news," French said.

Now, the state's construction program staff will review the document until the county executive holds a public hearing on the topic in December. Various hearings and revisions will occur before final draft is approved in May.

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