Howard schools put forth $94.6M capital budget proposal

Superintendent Renee Foose has put forth a preliminary $94.6 million capital proposal for fiscal year 2015, kicking off the annual budget process for the Howard County Public School System.

Central office staff gave the Board of Education its first look at the proposal, and the capital improvement program for fiscal years 2016-20, at the board meeting Thursday, Sept. 12 and, as with every year since the recession began, a familiar theme emerged.

"We do have a concern, and we've talked about this year after year," said Chief Facilities Officer Ken Roey. "We've received, on average, $73 million a year in the last five years from the local and state government (for the capital improvement program), yet our capital needs continue to grow."

Roey pointed out the projected, growing gap between what the school system needs and what it's getting financially from funding sources — if, he said, "we don't find another approach to funding the budget."

Board Vice-Chairman Brian Meshkin asked if there were other ways the school system could fund its capital projects.

"The gap's only getting bigger," he said. "Have we looked at other approaches, like public/private partnerships? Railroads, roads, airports are built with private dollars. Have we looked at that, at other funding vehicles? It seems like we keep going back to the same approach and we end up with the same result."

Roey said other jurisdictions are interested in pursuing such partnerships, though they are currently restricted by state law. He said the state was working on "drafting language" that could change that.

"We're looking at how (the jurisdictions) can move forward together and maybe take advantage of that, but that's early in development," Roey said. "It might not be the solution, but it might be one way to help."

Projects included in the fiscal 2015 capital budget include renovations and additions at Deep Run, Laurel Woods and Longfellow elementary schools; five roofing projects; and seven boiler/chiller projects. The proposed capital improvement program for fiscal years 2016-20 totals $631.8 million, and includes funds for renovations or additions at Wilde Lake and Patuxent Valley middle schools, Swansfield Elementary School and Hammond and Oakland Mills high schools.

A public hearing, work session and approval of the capital budget and the capital improvement program for fiscal years 2016-20 will be held Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the board room of the Department of Education in Ellicott City. The capital improvement program must be submitted to the state by Oct. 4. The board won't adopt a capital budget request until February 2014, with final adoption scheduled for May 2014.

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