By Jon Meoli, email@example.com
6:58 PM EST, January 19, 2012
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told the county Planning Board on Thursday that his upcoming capital budget proposal will include "full county funding" for the much-anticipated 200-seat addition to Stoneleigh Elementary School, as well as a new, 700-seat elementary school to serve the York Road corridor.
"I've asked our budget team reviewing the capital budget program to make recommendations that will allow me to enhance, as a priority, the funding of education," Kamenetz said.
"Those are two significant school additions that we are planning on, based upon the population needs of the school system," he said.
While details were scarce about the proposed York Road school — last year the school system considered the project but had not chosen a site — the inclusion of Stoneleigh was another positive step for advocates of the addition.
"I met with the Stoneleigh parents last year and indicated to them that if I had the funds available, I would support the project to move forward, because I think that not only is it a needed addition to that school, it also serves to stabilize the Stoneleigh community," Kamenetz said after the meeting.
"That, to me, is a win-win," he said.
Juliet Fisher, a Stoneleigh Elementary parent and member of the advocacy group, Stoneleigh United, said she received a call from the county executive with the news shortly before he address the planning board.
"It's extremely exciting," Fisher said. "He had been committed to the project before, but it's really wonderful to see him going above and beyond and making Stoneleigh a priority for his capital budget. It's really important making sure that there aren't any bumps in the road moving forward."
Should the necessary funds come through, plans are in place for Stoneleigh students to hold its 2012-13 school year at the soon-to-be-vacant Carver Center for the Arts and Technology in Towson, which would allow for accelerated construction.
School officials have said that by moving to Carver, the addition and renovation of Stoneleigh was expected to cost $2 million less than if the work happened with students around, and could be completed in time for the 2013-14 school year.
While she feels lucky that Stoneleigh parents began the push for an addition when they did, Fisher said the new proposed elementary school was good news for the county's overcrowded elementary school.
"It's a shame to see these schools overcrowded," Fisher said.
State support needed
Both Stoneleigh and the yet-unnamed York Road school are still pending state funds, but Kamenetz confirmed that if state support comes through, the county would provide matching funds.
While addressing the county's delegation last week in Annapolis, Kamenetz requested $70 million for school construction projects, while Gov.Martin O'Malley has requested a total of $350 million statewide for school construction.
So far, Kamenetz said the Interagency Committee on School Construction has recommended that Baltimore County receive almost $23 million of that, but he is "optimistic that there will be more to follow."
The budget recently submitted by the county Board of Education asks the county for $15.5 million for construction projects — that's essentially what the county would have to "match" if the state provides the full $70 million requested, Kamenetz said.
The county executive said that's doable.
"We intend to fund that from existing savings from completed projects within the schools' capital budget, without requiring any new additional funding," Kamenetz said.
Fifth District County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, attended the meeting and heralded the work done by Stoneleigh's supporters to advance the project this far.
"Within two years, the county and state have finalized funding for additions at two of Towson's most overcrowded schools, and I thank the county executive and our legislators for their support," Marks said. "It's particularly noteworthy during a tough economy."