Local school officials seek state funds

Construction requests exceed available money

General Assembly

January 29, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Flanked by county executives, legislators and community supporters, Maryland's school superintendents put their best faces forward yesterday as they asked the Board of Public Works for far more school construction money than the board has to offer.

At what has become known as the annual "beg-a-thon," Baltimore County alone requested nearly all of $26.1 million yet to be distributed statewide this year. Howard County requested $48.3 million, nearly twice what is available for the state.

Maryland's 24 school systems initially requested a total of $378 million, but the state has only $101.6 million available. Of that, officials have divvied up $75.5 million, leaving school systems to compete for what is left.

The Board of Public Works -- composed of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp -- will decide how to distribute the remaining $26.1 million this spring, after the state's capital budget has been approved. Money could be added to or subtracted from the pot between now and then, and school system officials are hoping for additions.

"Obviously, the needs exceed the available resources," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "There are many more requests than could be accommodated."

She added that school systems did a good job establishing priorities fortheir requests.

Baltimore City was among the school systems that made their requests more modest after the first round of disbursements.

The city school system asked for $12.6 million in addition to the $7.7 million the state has already committed. Schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland told the board the money would pay for immediate needs including science labs at four high schools and renovations at Digital Harbor High School and Baltimore School for the Arts.

The city had hoped the state would approve more than $37 million for building projects, but came back with the revised total figure of $20.3 million.

Howard County kept its hopes substantially higher.

The Howard County Board of Education and its estranged superintendent, John R. O'Rourke -- along with members of the County Council and the local legislative delegation -- asked for $48.3 million on top of the $4.3 million the county was already granted.

Without the money, "we're going to be forced to make a horrible decision about putting kids in seats or keeping our schools from deteriorating," said the school board's newest member, Joshua Kaufman. "It's a lose-lose situation, and not a choice that anyone should be forced to make. We need state funding."

Ehrlich gave the Howard group little feedback, saying simply that he was aware of the challenges confronting growing counties.

Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, too, made the case that more money is needed to prevent crowded schools from bursting at the seams.

Baltimore County schools have received $5.2 million of the $30.7 million district officials say they need. Hairston requested the remaining $25.5 million.

Most of the money Baltimore County has received will help fund the construction of Woodholme Elementary School in Pikesville. Officials say they also need money for the planned Windsor Mill Middle School, which would serve western Baltimore County. And they want to renovate four of their aging middle schools: Sudbrook Magnet, Arbutus, Ridgely and Southwest Academy.

Anne Arundel County school officials, who have received a commitment of about $4 million so far -- a fifth of what they requested -- asked the board yesterday for $16 million more.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith said the funds would allow the system to begin replacing four worn-out schools, each about 50 years old, and install new heating and air-conditioning systems at five schools.

Smith also asked for money to start work on a new elementary school near Fort Meade, where an expansion of Army housing will eventually cause existing schools to overflow.

Carroll County already has received approval for nearly $4 million of the $13.1 million school officials requested this year, including about $3 million toward construction of the $14.5 million Parr's Ridge Elementary in Mount Airy and $1 million toward the $18.2 million renovation of North Carroll Middle near Hampstead.

Carroll officials also asked the Board of Public Works yesterday to consider reimbursing them $4.5 million for 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.

Harford County legislative and school officials asked for an additional $5 million to be used toward a $44 million renovation of North Harford High School near Pylesville.

Del. Barry Glassman said the state had given the school system only a partial payment of $1.6 million. "That falls $5 million short," he said. "We will be begging for the remaining $5 million."

Sun staff writers Jennifer McMenamin, Tricia Bishop, Laura Loh, Tanika White, Ted Shelsby and Kimberly A.C. Wilson contributed to this article.

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