School officials ponder appeals

Md. planners decided not to fund several projects

Leaders must rank priorities

Construction plans for kindergartens needed

November 27, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll County school officials will decide over the next week what appeals they might pursue in response to state school planners' preliminary decision not to fund several school construction and renovation projects planned for next year.

Before a scheduled meeting next month with state school planners, county school officials also have to develop construction proposals for each elementary school that needs more space to provide state-required full-day kindergarten.

The staff of Maryland's public school construction program recommended last week that Carroll receive about $3 million of the $13.1 million school officials requested.

The $3 million allocation, if approved in spring by Maryland's Board of Public Works, would be the second installment in the state's share of the cost of building Parr's Ridge Elementary, the $14.5 million elementary school being built in Mount Airy.

In their budget request to state school planners this year, Carroll school officials also requested: $2.8 million toward the $18.2 million renovation of Hampstead's North Carroll Middle; $4.5 million in reimbursement for the county's costs in the construction of Winters Mill High, the $34 million school that opened just outside Westminster in August 2002; and $2.8 million to overhaul Westminster's West Middle School's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

The batch of smaller-than-usual requests leaves school officials without any obvious priority.

"It's all relative in this fiscal year," said Raymond Prokop, the school system's facilities director, "because we're not asking for one lump sum for a large project."

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker and Prokop must decide by Dec. 5 which of those decisions to appeal -- and rank their requests by priority. They are scheduled to meet Dec. 11 with the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction, which offers funding recommendations to the state public works board.

School officials have another chance to plead their case in January when the governor, treasurer and comptroller -- the trio who sit on the Board of Public Works -- hold their school construction public hearing, an annual affair commonly called the "Beg-a-thon."

That board's school construction funding decisions typically are announced in April.

Late start

Prokop said it is difficult this year to weigh one funding request over another.

Although the preliminary decision to withhold the state's third share of the North Carroll Middle renovation might ordinarily alarm him, the project is getting started a year behind schedule, which stretches the period during which the state can pay its share, Prokop said.

The public works board has awarded $5 million over the past two years toward the modernization of the 47-year-old middle school. The project, however, fell more than a year behind schedule when negotiations stalled between the county and several landowners whose properties would be crossed by a pipeline connecting the school to the public sewer system.

Easement agreements were reached in September, and renovation is expected to begin at the school in January.

Of greater concern to Prokop is the request for more detail in Carroll's proposal to build classrooms to meet the state's requirement that all kindergartners be enrolled in all-day programs by the 2007-2008 school year.

Mandate opposed

Carroll school board members oppose the mandate and are lobbying to revise the law to give local school boards across Maryland the flexibility to determine which kindergartners to enroll in all-day classes and how to decide that.

But even as Carroll board members draft legislation with the county's General Assembly delegation, and Ecker tries to win the support of Maryland's schools chief, the school system's facilities staff is developing plans to have enough kindergarten classrooms to double the county's half-day program.

"We have to give them a full-day kindergarten plan," Prokop said of his meeting next month with state school planners. "This year is the planning year. What they want to know is which schools need space and how much space."

Prokop has proposed -- and the Carroll school board agreed -- to plan to implement full-day kindergarten first in the elementary schools that already have enough classroom space to accommodate more children. Construction of elementary school additions would not begin before July 2005.

`In a real bind'

Carroll school officials estimate that building the 26 kindergarten classrooms needed to provide all-day programs at all 21 Carroll elementary schools could cost $10.4 million.

Asked whether the state might have difficulty paying for its share of all the new classrooms that Maryland would need to implement full-day kindergarten, given the $267 million backlog of projects it has approved but not yet funded, Prokop said, "They have no choice. They're in a real bind.

"If it wasn't for this [all-day kindergarten] legislation," he added, "there'd be a heck of a lot more money to go around."

The state this year has a budget of $100 million for public school construction and renovation projects. It has received $403.9 million worth of requests from Maryland's 24 school systems.

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