4:05 PM EDT, June 13, 2013
Get ready soon for that clamoring sound when parents and their political representatives call for a share of Baltimore County school construction money, most of which will come from the state, to be spent in their neighborhoods or the districts they represent.
That's why it's good news the school system will spend $500,000 to hire a consultant, GWWO Inc./Architects, to inventory infrastructure needs over the long term. It will help sort out the loud voices from the real needs.
County schools are in dire need of construction cash. This is the most significant challenge faced by schools Superintendent Dallas Dance, who has just completed his first year on the job. Overcrowded schools, aging infrastructure and the need for air conditioning top the list of problems left behind by his predecessor that need to be solved by his administration. The county's overall needs are estimated to cost at least $1.7 billion.
Overcrowding is a particularly high-profile issue. The use of portable classrooms — i.e., "trailers" — is widespread in some parts of the county to accommodate students for whom there is no room in the main building.
Solutions can take many forms, as we have seen in recent years as the school system erected new schools and built additions to existing schools. Other solutions are under discussion, including refitting former schools that now have other uses.
Taking a cue from the city school system, the recipient of $1 billion approved by the General Assembly for facilities construction and upgrades over six years, Dance has noted his intention to launch a long-term capital program to replace the piecemeal, crisis-oriented tactic of previous years.
This comprehensive approach is exactly what is needed.
When a funding package is in place, politics will unquestionably come into play. Parental involvement tends to be high in the more affluent areas of the county. We have already seen lobbying by parents who pack school district hearings seeking answers to their questions about crowded schools. The answers they seek are obvious — assurances that relief is coming in the form of construction money that will impact the schools their children attend.
When the time arrives for slicing up the construction funding pie, we urge Dance to make every effort to direct the money where the need is greatest, not where the clamoring is loudest.
We hope the report he has ordered will be a clear guide to need-based appropriations based on independent information. When decision day comes and Dance has to explain himself, it should come in handy.