School estimate called too high

Consultant puts cost of all-day kindergarten in county at $72 million

`It's somewhat excessive'

District must fulfill state mandate by 2007

Anne Arundel

October 17, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

A consultant is recommending that Anne Arundel County schools spend more than $72 million for new classroom space to fulfill the state's requirement that every school district provide all-day kindergarten for all children by 2007.

The findings will be presented to the school board Wednesday, but several members who have seen a condensed version of the report said the estimate seems too high.

"It's somewhat excessive," board President Paul G. Rudolph said of the estimate given to school officials by SHW Group, a Dallas-based architectural consulting firm. He said he will scrutinize the report for unnecessary spending.

The Maryland Association of Counties has projected that all-day kindergarten will cost about $140 million in statewide construction.

The SHW Group report is the first step in the school system's internal debate over how to comply with the state's directive.

Statewide, many superintendents are worried that they might not be able to afford all-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten for disadvantaged children by the 2007-2008 school year.

Carroll County, one of the state's loudest critics, is seeking permission to provide all-day schooling only for kindergartners who score poorly on basic skills assessments. Officials in that county estimate that providing all-day kindergarten for all children would cost $4.8 million in construction.

Howard County estimates that it would cost $10.6 million to provide space for all-day kindergarten throughout that school system.

"We're going to use [the SHW report] as our starting point and hone it down," said Anne Arundel Assistant Superintendent Gregory Nourse, noting that the school system had projected the cost at $30 million.

School officials expect more than 7,500 kindergartners and pre-kindergartners by 2007, up from about 6,000 pupils of that age countywide now.

Twelve of the county's 78 elementary schools have all-day kindergarten, most because a large percentage of their pupils are from low-income families.

This year, the system began its first regional early childhood educational center at the old Ferndale Elementary School.

The consultant recommended that $59 million be spent to add classrooms to schools, $8.8 million to build regional centers in the Annapolis and North County high school feeder systems, $3.6 million for portable classrooms and $636,000 for renovations.

The costs include renovating at least 80 classrooms that do not comply with county standards for kindergarten classrooms. The ideal kindergarten room has 1,000 square feet and a bathroom, Nourse said.

Sun staff writers Tricia Bishop and Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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