September 27, 2012
So the Harford County Board of Education has voted to approve rebuilding both Havre de Grace High School and Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, two projects that have had a fair amount of public support.
It seemed clear a showdown would be in the offing if one were approved and not the other. Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a lifelong Havre de Grace resident, had put the school board and others on notice that if the Havre de Grace High project weren't funded, nothing would be. Meanwhile, the formidable force of a politically awakened Fallston has appeared to be getting into fighting shape.
So the board's move means game over, everyone won. Right?
The board of education may have included both schools in its school construction budget that totals just shy of $60 million, but the school board has no revenue source of its own. Before it can spend a penny on either school, it needs to come up with a lot of money. Coming up with that money is a process that is only in the beginning stages with the board's approval of a capital budget earlier this week.
Several projects, including the Youth's Benefit and Havre de Grace High rebuilds, are enumerated in the budget that was approved. So are two other key elements: a request for $26.8 million from the state government and another request for $32.9 million from the county government.
Though money will be forthcoming from both sources — that's how education is funded in Maryland — there is no guarantee of how much.
In recent years, Harford County's share of school construction funding from the state has been light. Harford County is a Republican stronghold in a state whose legislature is dominated by Democrats. Adding to the natural political game-playing resulting from this dynamic is the reality that a few of the people who represent Harford County are regarded even by their local GOP colleagues as bomb throwers rather than deal makers.
It's probably fair to say Harford County shouldn't rely on state funding to build the two schools.
It may be a little more realistic to expect the requested amount from the county to materialize, given the county executive's particular interest in the Havre de Grace project and the political reality that he's running for governor in two years and will also need substantial backing from Fallston, among the most affluent and reliably Republican communities in Republican Craig's home county.
Can the county go it alone in funding rebuilds of two comparably sized schools? It did forward fund the Patterson Mill High and Middle School complex a few years back, but money was a little easier to come by in those days.
Suffices to say, it's not game over, it's game on.