The Baltimore County Planning Board on Thursday gave its stamp of approval to the school board's $56.2 million capital budget request for fiscal year 2015, though it attached a caveat to a controversial school construction plan approved in the budget.
In a memo to Baltimore County's Director of Budget and Finance Keith Dorsey, the Planning Board urged further discussions with stakeholders about the three-part central area elementary school overcrowding relief plan that, includes the closure of Halstead Academy in Hillendale.
The plan calls for Halstead's student population to be moved to a new school at the site of Loch Raven Elementary School, which has been closed for over three decades. The school plan also calls for the creation of a neighborhood boundary and a 189-seat addition for Cromwell Valley Magnet Elementary in Towson, as well as the renovation of Halstead for a future undetermined magnet use.
Several affected communities, including Loch Raven Village and Hillendale, have protested the plan saying they have not had ample opportunity to provide input. Since the plan first emerged, Baltimore County Public Schools has altered it slightly to accommodate community concerns — but area leaders say those alterations are not enough.
In the budget memo, the board expressed its concern about the school plan.
"Therefore, the Planning Board encourages the County Executive, Baltimore County Public Schools and the affected citizens [to] continue to meet and discuss the various proposals with the goal of reaching an agreement on a solution to resolve the overcrowding in the central corridor," the memo read.
When BCPS Superintendent Dallas Dance came before the Planning Board on Feb. 4 to present the school system's capital budget plans, Planning Board member Scott Jenkins questioned him on the central corridor plan at length.
Jenkins, who represents the 5th District which includes Towson, had previously met with Loch Raven Village community leaders, and vowed to be a voice for them as the process moved forward.
Jenkins said this week that the board approved the capital budget as submitted because it did not want to deny funds for badly needed school construction in the central corridor. However, he hoped the memo would bring county officials and the community back to the table in hopes of finding a solution that is satisfactory to all parties.
BCPS requested $35.6 million in county funds for work on Halstead Academy, Loch Raven and Cromwell Valley elementaries as part of the school system's overall $142.5 million capital request. According to the budget summary provided by the Planning Board, $4.5 million of the central area funds were provided for Fiscal Year 2015, with approximately $32 million recommended for the Fiscal Year 2016 capital budget.
An additional $13.7 million was requested from the state Interagency Committee on School Construction for the Loch Raven and Cromwell Valley elementaries construction projects. In a preliminary report on the Fiscal Year 2015 state school construction budget, neither received funding.
Just one member of the Planning Board, Scott Holupka, voted against the capital budget package at Thursday's meeting. During the meeting, Holupka requested to amend the addendum to ask that any additional funds be dedicated to community improvement, but he found no support.
The budget memo instead urged any leftover funds to go toward parking expansion at the Seven Oaks Senior Center in Perry Hall, land preservation funding and an expansion on the Horse Area at the Maryland Agricultural Center in Cockeysville.
The $56.2 million capital budget request included $18.3 million from the county's general fund, $12.3 million in reallocated bond funds, and $25.6 million from outside sources, which are listed as federal, state and county programs and fees.
The Planning Board's recommendation on the budget now goes to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz who is scheduled to finalize the budget next month and present it to the County Council for final approval in May.