School funding tops wish list in Assembly

Executive wants $95 million in building aid

January 04, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun Reporter

Saying school buildings in Baltimore County are deteriorating, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. called on the state yesterday to provide $95 million to help with renovations.

The request tops his list of priorities for the General Assembly session that begins next week. While Smith acknowledged that the county is unlikely to get the amount he is requesting, he said school construction is critical in a county where almost every high school was built during or before the Nixon administration.

"We are committed to ensuring that every student is able to learn in a well-designed, high-performing, well-maintained school facility," the second-term Democrat told lawmakers and county employees gathered in a ceremonial courtroom outside his office in Towson.

His legislative agenda also includes $11.9 million for a program for disabled infants and toddlers, $9.75 million for artificial turf fields at county parks, and other community projects and legislation to crack down on identity theft and gang violence.

The $95 million request for school money is nearly 2 1/2 times what the county received last year. The county received $36 million after asking for $110 million in school money, Smith said.

"Realistically, we're not going to get $95 million," Smith said after the speech. "But I want a lot more than we got last year."

He said he expects that to happen now that fellow Democrat Martin O'Malley, who received heavy campaign support from Smith in the gubernatorial election, is set to move into the governor's mansion.

The 90-day General Assembly session will begin Wednesday.

In addition to the school construction money, which would come out of the state's capital budget, Smith urged the state to significantly boost the Aging Schools Program, which is part of the operating budget.

The program provides money to schools older than 15 years to reduce asbestos and lead paint, repair heating and install wiring for technology. Smith called on the state to double the annual funding for the statewide program, to $20.8 million.

Smith said building and renovating the schools will be key to the region's ability to take in thousands of new residents as part of the planned realignment of military bases.

"We can talk about roads, about houses, about business location, but ... we have to have educated people for the jobs that are going to be available," Smith said.

Del. Steven J. Deboy Sr., a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, said he agreed that the General Assembly should make school construction a priority.

The aging schools need attention, said Deboy, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee. "If they've got buckets catching water, that's not conducive to learning."

Smith's other funding requests include $11.9 million for the Maryland Infant and Toddler Program, which serves children who have developmental disabilities. The program received $600,000 from the state last year, Smith said.

The county is also seeking state money for several community projects, including artificial turf athletic fields at Northwest and Meadowood regional parks and at the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.

Smith voiced support for several legislative proposals. For the second consecutive year, he called for a bill to subject the proceeds of identity theft to forfeiture.

Another proposal would give the attorney general's office greater authority to prosecute gang members.

And another would give forensic workers the right to get results of blood tests of people whose body fluids they come in contact with.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

Smith's priorities

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s list of priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session includes:

$95 million for school construction, mainly involving the renovation of middle schools.

$20.8 million statewide for the Aging Schools Program, with the money being used for repairs of older schools.

$11.9 million statewide for the Maryland Infant and Toddler Program, an education program for children with disabilities.

$9.75 million for community projects, including artificial turf fields at county parks, and completion of the Heritage Trail.

Legislation to subject the proceeds of identity theft to forfeiture.

Legislation to give the attorney general's office greater authority to prosecute gang members.

Legislation to give forensic workers the right to get results of blood tests of people whose body fluids they come in contact with.

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