Harford school officials summoned to Annapolis by legislators

Harford County legislators have summoned local school leaders to Annapolis for a sit-down to discuss what some legislators say is a lack of communication.

The request for a meeting is contained in one of two letters from Del. Rick Impallaria, the chairman of Harford's legislative delegation, that was prompted by the failure of Harford school officials to attend the annual state Board of Public Works review and appeal of local school systems' fiscal year 2015 construction requests that was held Feb. 5 in the capital.

The session typically includes direct appeals from local school and elected officials on behalf of their requests that the state agency in charge of school construction has declined to recommend for funding.

On Feb. 6, Impallaria wrote a letter on behalf of the delegation to HCPS interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan and School Board President Nancy Reynolds, which in part states: "As a Delegation we expect open dialogue between us and the Board of Education and the Superintendent's Office. We are all part of the same team; one of our job duties is to fight for funding for the school system."

The hearing before Gov. Martin O'Malley, state comptroller and treasurer was held on a day when Harford schools were closed because of a snowstorm, as were other systems in the region.

HCPS originally requested $14.4 million in state funds for school construction projects in fiscal 2015, including four HVAC replacements at Fallston High School, Dublin Elementary School, Darlington Elementary School and Ring Factory Elementary School and a replacement building for Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston.

The school system also requested local planning approval for a major renovation of Joppatowne High School and for Havre de Grace Middle and High Schools, according to Joe Licata, chief of administration for HCPS.

The state Interagency Committee on School Construction had approved $10.1 million of the request. During the Board of Public Works meeting, HCPS officials were scheduled to make their case to secure the rest of the requested funding, aside from HVAC replacement at Dublin Elementary School, which Licata said is not eligible for state funding, since it received state funds within the past 15 years.

In a previous interview, Licata had said the harsh winter weather kept HCPS officials, in particular Canavan and Reynolds, from making the trip to Annapolis. He said HCPS officials did, however, send the Interagency Committee on School Construction, all pertinent materials for their appeals days in advance of the meeting.

But Harford delegates and senators have said they were unaware that HCPS officials would not be attending.

Their anger was further stoked because, in spite of the weather, Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti drove to Annapolis that day from her home in Havre de Grace to show her support of the Harford projects, particularly the planning approval for the Havre de Grace schools.

Though Impallaria and Lisanti both spoke before the Board of Public Works, they said afterward they were unprepared and did not have any pre-briefing or an information packet from Harford school officials.

"The Delegation would like an answer as to why this occurred," Impallaria wrote on Feb. 6. "Before you formulate your answer, we realize that the weather was bad. However, the hearing was scheduled for 2 p.m., and did not take place until 4:30 p.m...there was means to contact me."

Last Friday, Impallaria sent a second letter to Canavan and Reynolds requesting their presence at the delegation's next meeting this Friday.

"Our purpose is to have a better dialog and come to a better understanding of the circumstances which occurred in relation to the Board of Public Works appeal hearing on Feb. 5," he wrote.

On Tuesday afternoon, however, Impallaria sent out an e-mail noting that the delegation would meet on Feb. 28, instead of this Friday, and that Canavan and Reynolds "will report to the Delegation and answer question[s]." He said Wednesday the meeting was moved back a week "because of scheduling difficulties with HCPS."

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