Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. on Thursday asked Maryland lawmakers to reconsider legislation that would provide additional state funding to the counties for school construction during the General Assembly’s special session beginning May 1.
If the extra funding doesn’t come this year, Olszewski said during a news conference in Towson, he would like to see it be HB and SB 1 next year — the first thing the legislature picks up.
“Too many of our schools are aging, too many are run down. We don’t have enough seats in our buildings to accommodate our county’s growing population. We have to move fast to ensure that we don’t deny a generation of children the modern school facilities that they all deserve,” Olszewski said with school officials, county council members, state legislators and Board of Education members around him.
As a former legislator, he knows it’s possible for “things to be done in a day,” he said about getting legislation through the Senate for school funds.
After a $2 billion school construction bill stalled in the Senate at the end of the 2019 legislative session, Olszewski said new school buildings on the county’s wish list will be delayed at least a year.
Despite Olszewski’s call for action Thursday, there’s little chance of any action on school construction funding during the special session.
Jake Weissmann, chief of staff in Senate President Mike Miller’s office, said the purpose of the special session is to allow the House of Delegates to elect a new speaker after the death of Michael Busch.
“There is no intention to pass any legislation,” Weissmann said Thursday.
Del. Pat Young, a Democrat who chairs the Baltimore County delegation in the House, said bringing attention to the issue of school construction funding is “a positive thing.”
But, Young said, “unfortunately, this special session, they’re not going to move a bill like that.”
In his proposed $3.4 billion budget released in mid-April, Olszewski is seeking the county’s first income tax increase in nearly 30 years.
But the proposal did not provide enough money to start construction on new high schools for Dulaney, Lansdowne and Towson. It included $15 million for the planning and design for Lansdowne, but Olszewski said the General Assembly’s failure to pass the state Build to Learn Act was a huge blow to the county’s construction plans.
During the news conference, Olszewski brought special attention to Lansdowne High, which received the lowest facility score of any during a 2014 assessment and was recommended for replacement by SAGE Policy Group, an outside firm that did a capacity study of schools in late 2018 and early 2019.
“The building is literally crumbling. The drinking water is brown. The building is so ill equipped that it can’t accommodate students in wheelchairs,” Olszewski said. “Students can’t effectively learn in these conditions at Lansdowne.”
Any movement though, has been stalled.
"We cannot put shovels in the ground for these projects without more support from the state,” he said Thursday.
County officials have said before that constructing a new public high school carries a price tag of about $100 million.
Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents the county’s fifth district, said Thursday after the news conference that the state legislature not passing the school construction bill “directly” kept planning and construction money out of his district.
“Baltimore County will likely step up to the plate by asking developers to contribute more to school construction,” he said, referring to a developer impact fee that’s included in the proposed Olszewski budget. “Now we need the legislature to do a better job of being our partner.”
Sen. Chris West, a Republican who represents central and norther parts of Baltimore County, said the county’s delegation would do “everything we can” to pass school construction funding, and be back “in spades” in 2020 if it doesn’t pass in the special session.
In an interview before the press conference, West said he thinks it would be “logistically very hard to see how any bill could get passed by both houses next Wednesday.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this story.