School-maintenance funding disappoints system officials

May 24, 2006|By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV,SUN REPORTER

While pleased that nearly all of their fiscal 2007 operating and capital budget requests were funded, Howard County schools officials are disappointed by the lack of funding for facility maintenance.

Board of Education members are scheduled to adopt both budgets - $551.5 million for the operating budget and $88.4 million for capital spending - tomorrow, but Joshua Kaufman, the school board chairman, said he is concerned about the amount set aside for building maintenance.

"The bottom line is, particularly with more aging buildings, cutting maintenance hurts," Kaufman said. "We still will be doing maintenance, but it will be a matter of deferring things to next year's budget. We will try to defer the least important things."

Among the items left unfunded in the capital budget were $9 million for renovation and addition at the empty Cedar Lane School in Columbia, $1.1 million for a new maintenance facility and $900,000 for a survey that would measure the equity of school facilities.

Kaufman said the survey would give the system a "needs assessment and plan" to maintain existing buildings.

"It will be a comprehensive plan," Kaufman said. "We'll have a much clearer sense of the needs we will have in the upcoming years, and we will be able to let the county and state governments know more accurately what our true needs are."

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said the system has a backlog of needs.

"You can pay for it now, or you can pay for it later," Cousin said. "These things have to take place for our buildings to stay in good repair. We want to make sure that the facilities are kept up to the high standards, as well."

Cousin stressed that he was not complaining about the lack of full funding for building maintenance. He pointed out that the school system had the opportunity to decide what programs received funding during the budget process.

"We could have taken those cuts from other places," said Cousin, who added that his main focus was to protect classroom instruction.

Items left unfunded in the operating budget include $1.6 million for health insurance, $700,000 for retirement, $600,000 for maintenance supplies and $190,000 for media supplies at the new northeastern elementary school, scheduled to open in August 2007.

In addition, the system will not hire a pupil personnel worker and three custodians.

The decision to hold back on funding certain items has been difficult, Kaufman said.

"We've attempted to ruthlessly prioritize and figure where we could afford to cut," he said.

Still, Cousin looked favorably at both budgets.

"This is the closest that we have come in many years to matching our requests," Cousin said. "We are thrilled with the fact that the county has looked at the needs of the system."

john-john.williams@baltsun

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