State fails to meet school-building needs, say Balto. Co. officials

New budget provides 10% of a $70 million request

February 18, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's share of next year's state school-construction funding grew to nearly $7.1 million this week - but county officials say that amount falls far short of meeting the needs of their aging school system.

The county, which received about $5.1 million for five projects during a first go-round, was allotted $2 million more this week when state officials doled out an additional $41 million to Maryland's 24 school districts.

For the county officials, that means just 10 percent of their $70 million request has been met to date. That's better than other large jurisdictions in the state - Howard County received 9.2 percent of a $59.6 million request, Montgomery County 6.7 percent of $126 million in projects - but worse than smaller jurisdictions on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland, many of which received at least half, and some all, of their smaller requests.

With about $40 million still up for grabs - and maybe more depending on what legislators and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. do between now and April - Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he planned to continue to press for state funding for the projects on the county's list.

He started that push yesterday with a news release that listed $28 million in school renovations, and he said the projects "are in jeopardy if additional funding is not forthcoming."

"We need to get a significantly larger allocation representative of our need," he said, adding that he was "disappointed" in the county's share to date.

School systems asked for more money this year than last - $595 million compared with $387 million, said David Lever, the executive director of the Maryland Public School Construction Program.

"It's a big, big number. It's 50 percent more than was requested last year, and it's an overwhelming number," he said.

Through Ehrlich's budget and money from statewide contingency funds, $161 million is available to apply to all those requests, he said.

Three-fourths of the money has already been allotted through a complex system that looks at school system needs in the context of each jurisdiction's finances, mandated programs and other factors, he said.

"We're approaching the needs of the smaller counties, but the large counties ... are not even getting close because their needs are so tremendous," he said.

Baltimore County projects that received funding this week were roofs at Dundalk and Carroll Manor elementary schools, boilers at Pine Grove Middle and an air-distribution system at Perry Hall High. Arbutus Middle, which received some money for a renovation project in the first round, was allotted the remainder of the project cost, and the county received an additional $285,000 for a new Windsor Mill Middle, on top of the $2.4 million approved earlier.

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