Like most county public schools that were built in the 1960s and are in need of a face-lift, Northeast High School in Pasadena needs a new gymnasium, more classrooms and a larger cafeteria.
But whether county officials can fully fund the renovation project, which would cost $32 million in the next fiscal year, is uncertain. Portions of the project could be put on the back burner as the school system struggles to put a dent in maintenance and construction backlogs that have grown over the years because of lack of funding.
Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell has submitted a $216.4 million capital budget for fiscal year 2010 to the school board, hoping to ease a $185 million maintenance backlog, and construction and renovation backlogs that exceed $1.5 billion. But county officials, forecasting a shrinking revenue pool, expect to award the school system about $100 million in capital funding for the coming fiscal year, according to budget projections. The school system is also eligible for state funding.
"They ask for so much," Hammond said. "They always ask for more than we can afford."
Maxwell, who during last year's budget process sparred with County Executive John R. Leopold, voiced his unhappiness with funding levels during last week's school board meeting, during which school officials said funding for maintenance projects in fiscal 2007 was at the same level as 1991.
"That's pretty inadequate, wouldn't you say?" Maxwell said.
Leopold and Maxwell are scheduled to meet to discuss budget issues later this month.
Maxwell requested $189 million in funding this year and received $139.8 million, said Alex L. Szachnowicz, the chief operating officer for the county school system.
"You are essentially underfunded each year," Szachnowicz said. "You have things left over that you should have taken care of. The problem is that things cost more today than they did in 1991."
Over the past four fiscal years, the state has distributed $1.4 billion in capital improvement funding to the 24 school districts in Maryland, said David Lever, executive director of the state's Public School Construction Program.
Last year, Anne Arundel received $27.4 million from the state for capital improvements. The county, based in part on its income and employment levels, can receive 50 percent funding for eligible projects, a level equal to Baltimore, Montgomery, Kent, Talbot and Worcester counties. Baltimore City is eligible to receive 94 percent funding.
State officials have signaled that Anne Arundel funding could increase if its board processes projects more quickly. Board members say things should move more smoothly this year.
In the past, the bid and feasibility study approval processes have lagged, officials said.
"They've done a very good job of tailoring their total amount of request [to] the reality of anticipated state funding," Lever said. "The issue emerges from the timing. ... That problem has been corrected, so it's very helpful."
Meanwhile, failing air-conditioning systems, old pipes, stained carpets and chipped paint abound at many of the county's 119 schools.
"The overall quality of the physical learning environment at Northeast High School suffers from insufficient space, outdated systems, the absence of natural light, visual monotony, inflexibility, and makeshift modifications to offset program and building deficiencies," said a consultant's report filed with the school board this month.
The renovation project at North East also calls for the construction of a two-story classroom wing, as well as additions to administrative and performing arts space; demolition of the technology education and cafeteria and kitchen areas of the schools; construction of a gymnasium addition; and the conversion of the existing gym into a media center.
"It's age, wear and tear," said Victor E. Bernson, a county school board member representing the greater Severna Park area. "We're dealing with 50-year-old school buildings. So much of it is things that aren't so obvious. We're talking about the guts of the buildings, the things in the basement and behind the walls."
The superintendent's proposed budget also sets aside $5 million to build walls in some schools to separate classroom spaces. In the 1970s, schools experimented with the elimination of individual classrooms, instead teaching students in open spaces, a system that is now considered distracting and ineffective.
More than 30 schools in the system have classrooms where, at times, four different classes are taught in one space, Bernson said.
"All it is is a source of cacophony," Bernson said.
The budget allocates about $66.2 million for renovations to Northeast, Severna Park Middle School, Southgate Elementary School and Overlook Elementary School. Pershing Hill Elementary would be replaced. Work has not begun.
The budget seeks $6 million for feasibility studies to assess construction and renovation needs at six county elementary schools.
The county Board of Education has until January to review Maxwell's budget proposal.