Base relocation bill criticized

Parents, officials say funding for move ignores needs of existing schools

February 07, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Some parent groups and lawmakers yesterday criticized a proposal to make funding for school projects related to growth around Maryland's military bases a priority, saying pressing needs for the state's existing schools would be pushed aside.

"There are thousands of Maryland children now occupying schools that desperately need renovation, where heat is not predictably regulated, without adequate lighting, science labs and other facility basics," said Bebe Verdery, education reform project director with the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The needs of the children who will be residents of our state in the future should not take precedence over the children here today."

The testimony came at a hearing on a bill introduced by Del. Barry Glassman of Harford County that would give priority to school and transportation construction projects needed to ease growth pressures triggered by the military's Base Realignment and Closure Process.

State planners expect 40,000 to 60,000 new jobs to arrive in Central Maryland over the next few years, with most concentrated around Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford. Construction projects can take more than six years from the time they are approved, officials said yesterday.

Glassman, a Republican, said current funding formulas do not take into account the base relocation's sudden impact. Harford, which planners say faces the greatest growth pressure, currently has $500 million in school needs without taking the military initiative into account, he said.

"Without priority funding, we're going to go under," Glassman told members of the appropriations committee. "We're treading water as it is."

Officials from Anne Arundel did not testify yesterday, and the bill has only one co-sponsor who does not represent Harford, Cecil or Baltimore counties. Four of the co-sponsors are Democrats.

Some delegates said yesterday they were worried that their schools and roads would fall behind because of the bill.

Baltimore is seeking $150 million in funding this year for major renovations at Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carver high schools and Violetville and Leith Walk elementary schools.

"We're probably $2.5 billion behind, as far as funding to bring our schools to par," said Del. Keith E. Haynes, a Baltimore Democrat.

Del. Susan L.M. Aumann, a Baltimore County Democrat, added: "Baltimore City has the greatest need, but Baltimore County has the oldest inventory. My concern is we'll be diluting the process that ... has been set up."

Representatives from the Interagency Committee on School Construction, which recommends funding for school projects, and the Maryland Department of Transportation said they had concerns about putting priorities into law.

The transportation department took no position on the bill. David G. Lever, executive director of the IAC, and several parent representatives opposed it.

"We believe passing the legislation will have significant impacts, some untold today, on the city" and on areas such as the Eastern Shore, said Rick Tyler, a member of the Maryland PTA's legislative committee.

Although Anne Arundel and Harford are expected to receive most of the new jobs, additional growth will spill over into areas such as Howard and Cecil counties, as well as Baltimore and Baltimore County.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown has been appointed to lead a state group that will coordinate regional efforts to accommodate growth.

Maryland won't reap the benefits of the new jobs if its cities and towns can't handle the influx, said Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Democrat who co-sponsored Glassman's bill.

"Something really good is about to happen, and we want to show the state that we are supporting it," she

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