Board members concerned that some school projects won't be funded

Some Anne Arundel County school board members anticipate that Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's $159 million, fiscal year 2012 capital budget proposal — an increase of about $36 million from last fiscal year — will likely come up short of being completely funded.

After hearing the proposal Wednesday, board members questioned how many of the more than three dozen prioritized projects on the proposal would end up being shelved for another year.

The capital budget sets funding priorities for the school system's construction projects. The $159 million proposal calls for $36 million to be funded by the state, and the remaining $123 million by Anne Arundel County government.

The budget for fiscal year 2011 was $124 million, of which $26 million came from the state and $98 million from the county, according to Alex Szachnowicz, chief operating officer for county schools.

Board members such as Victor E. Bernson are concerned that projects that have been delayed in the past because of funding might be delayed again.

"We have a delta between $159 million in requests and a $124 million reality," said Bernson. "I know we have priorities here. Even assuming that we have a generous response from the County Council and county executive this year, and we come in at $131 million instead of $124, by my calculations, we're done at priority No. 20, and the other 17 are all going to fall back another year."

Of a list of 37 projects to be funded in fiscal year 2012, the top 13 remain unchanged from the current fiscal year.

They include: $11 million for all-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten (ranked fourth), $14 million for textbooks (ranked eighth) and $8 million for open-space classroom enclosures (ranked third). The first project to move up in priority is the $3 million modernization of Belle Grove Elementary School, which moved to 14th from 16th.

The proposal also calls for $1.25 million to be spent on off-site projects such as construction of sidewalks and walkways.

Szachnowicz said that the projects would not necessarily be funded according to the school board's priority, adding that county executives could pick and choose which items to fund and at what cost.

Board members such as Eugene Peterson said that some projects, including some that have been on the list for years, will likely go unfunded again.

"We're just adding to the backlog," Peterson said. "Even in tough economic times we need to repair and replace our schools."

Peterson added that with an anticipated influx of tens of thousands of residents expected to take up residence at Fort Meade via Base Realignment and Closure measures, the county's resources might be further strained.

"My fear is that in the short term many of the same parents who are sending their kids to public school are going to say, 'I'm opting out,' " he said, adding that the county might lose residents to neighboring counties that are building schools.

But school board president Patricia Nalley said she thought the budget was "fair for our children."

"As we look at our priorities I understand, and I feel for when we talk about schools, but I think it's fair," she added. "And, hopefully, we'll be able to work with our County Council and governor and really get the funding for our schools. There are tough economic times, and we understand that."

Anne Arundel officials say that on Sept. 15, the board is scheduled to hold a public hearing regarding the capital budget and adopt it.

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