Get unlimited digital access to baltimoresun.com. $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Editorial

More than sports arenas

A proposal making the rounds in Annapolis to enlist the Maryland Stadium Authority in overseeing a massive overhaul of Baltimore's aging school buildings is clearly an attempt to bring the issue to the front burner in this year's General Assembly session. As a practical matter, there's little enough difference between this idea and one previously put forward by city schools CEO Andrés Alonso that it's worth adopting if doing so would prompt lawmakers to support the investment necessary to meet Baltimore's massive needs.

No one questions that the problem is urgent: Seventy percent of city schools are in poor condition, with leaky roofs, broken heating and air-conditioning systems, boarded-up windows and outmoded science labs. Baltimore can't thrive or attract new residents if its schools are dilapidated and unsafe, and asking parents to send their children to learn in them sends a terrible message about how little the city values their education.

Mr. Alonso's plan was announced last year after a systemwide survey of city school buildings that found more than half of them in serious need of repair or replacement. That survey echoed earlier findings by the ACLU and other groups, which estimated the costs for needed construction at $2.8 billion — more than Maryland has allocated for all school construction in the state over the last decade. The state school construction funds the city presently receives are a drop in the bucket compared to the need, and the piecemeal way those funds are allocated essentially only allows the city to manage the continuing decline.

The Alonso proposal, modeled after an approach that has been successful in other states but which is untried in Maryland, involved creating a private, nonprofit entity that would raise money for school construction by issuing bonds. The bonds would be backed by existing state and city funding streams for school construction, but instead of getting the funds on a project-by-project basis, as the schools now do, the state would send them to the third-party agency in the form of a block grant every year. Under this novel funding mechanism, the schools chief estimated as much as $1.1 billion could be raised for the first phase of the effort.

But some lawmakers have questioned whether the nonprofit agency envisioned by the schools chief would have the financial and management experience to handle such a huge project in a way that protected the state's investment. Others worry that the state or the city could be stuck with a massive debt liability if market conditions changed and the third-party nonprofit was unable to repay its investors.

Those questions might not be so threatening, however, if the Maryland Stadium Authority, which has had long experience in overseeing and managing large construction projects, were to fill the role of the third-party nonprofit envisioned in Mr. Alonso's initial proposal. And giving that responsibility to the agency might not be as much of a stretch as it seems.

While the authority is well known for its work in creating Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, it has taken on a number of other projects over the past 20 years, such as construction or expansion of the convention centers in Baltimore and Ocean City, the Hippodrome at France-Merrick Performing Arts Center and projects at the University of Maryland, College Park. It also had a role in the preparations for the Baltimore Grand Prix.

Given reports of financial mismanagement in the city schools in recent years, it's understandable that state lawmakers have been wary of Baltimore's proposal. But lawmakers who might be reluctant to pour state funds into an independent city nonprofit with no direct mechanism for state oversight or accountability may be more willing to support Baltimore's school construction effort if they know the stadium authority is keeping tabs on how the money is being spent.

That's not just a politically expedient solution that allows lawmakers to approve massive school construction spending in Baltimore City when their own districts are hurting. It's also good public policy — and perhaps even a model for other jurisdictions that will need to upgrade their school infrastructure in coming years. If bringing in the Stadium Authority provides a more politically palatable means of getting Baltimore's project off the ground, that's good not only for city schoolchildren but potentially for children across the state as well.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    • Well-trained teachers are an asset to city [Letter]
      Well-trained teachers are an asset to city [Letter]

      Many thanks to reporter Liz Bowie for taking a close look at how Urban Teacher Center prepares new teachers to serve our local schools more effectively ("Residency program tries to solve problem of teacher burnout," Aug. 18).

    • Baltimore's progress at risk
      Baltimore's progress at risk

      Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other Baltimore leaders are mobilizing to fight some of the cuts in state aid to the city in Gov. Larry Hogan's budget. They're not alone among local leaders in objecting to the new governor's spending plan, but they have a strong argument that Baltimore is...

    • Teachers need to know the foundations of reading
      Teachers need to know the foundations of reading

      The Committee for Change, a sub-committee of the Learning Disabilities of Greater Baltimore, is working along with other educators and state lawmakers on legislation that would create a task force to study teacher training programs this session.

    • Not so fast on charter schools
      Not so fast on charter schools

      The Abell Foundation report on charter schools cites a 2013 CREDO study on charter schools in 27 states ("New effort underway to change Maryland charter schools law," Jan. 20).

    • Chartering success
      Chartering success

      A new report by the Abell Foundation concludes that Maryland needs to dramatically increase the state's efforts to recruit successful charter school organizations in order to boost achievement levels among low-income minority students in underperforming public schools. It's a finding that has...

    • Thornton was reckless to keep schools open
      Thornton was reckless to keep schools open

      Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton's decision not to delay or close the schools during Tuesday's1-3 inch snowfall appears misplaced in both time and place. My wife and I attended Baltimore elementary schools in the 1940s when 1-3 inches of snow was commonplace and no need for alarm for...

    • City schools made the wrong call
      City schools made the wrong call

      I was dismayed and appalled at the poor judgment of the Baltimore City Public Schools on Tuesday morning ("Snow to accumulate through early afternoon, causes major traffic delays," Jan. 6). After almost two hours on the treacherous roads today, our son finally arrived at school. What was...

    • Key to reading success is teacher training
      Key to reading success is teacher training

      As an educator, I am very concerned about reading instruction in the state of Maryland. I am currently working with other educators and the Maryland legislature to introduce a bill in January creating a task force to study teacher preparation. We are asking Larry Hogan to support this bill as...

    Comments
    Loading