Carroll legislators say a bill they put forth in Annapolis could aid a county plan to replace the aging Carroll County Career and Technology Center by reducing the project's estimated price tag.

The bill would exempt public work contracts for the construction or renovation of a career technology center or a classroom used for STEAM education — science, art, engineering, technology and mathematics — from provisions of the state's prevailing wage law.


Maryland's prevailing wage law sets pay rates for contractors and subcontractors who work on state projects valued at $500,000 or more. Pay rates vary based on a worker's occupation and by jurisdiction where the work is performed. For school construction projects, the state must foot 25 percent or more of the bill for workers to be eligible for prevailing wage rates.

Del. April Rose, R-District 5, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 1459, cross-filed with Senate Bill 440, which was filed by state Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5. The measure is backed by a number of Republicans in the House of Delegates.

"My hope is that this would be a tool in the toolbox moving forward with either giving the [County Board of Commissioners or the Carroll County Board of Education] some budgetary relief on construction costs … since we're really fighting for every dollar and we're trying to do more with less I was hoping this would help give us some options," said Rose, whose two youngest children attend South Carroll High School. "I think more opportunities for our kids is important. It breaks my heart that we have to turn so many kids away from a lot of these programs that are so popular."

Ready said he believes the state's prevailing wage is problematic because it inflates the cost of public construction and forces jurisdictions to pay a higher wage than private businesses would. However, he said the legislation is focused on promoting STEM education and tech programs rather than derailing the prevailing wage law.

"We need to help jurisdictions like Carroll that are trying to stretch their dollars as far as they can," Ready said.

According to Ready, a conservative estimate indicates the measure could save 8-10 percent on construction costs if a waiver of prevailing wage was issued for these types of construction projects.

"In Carroll County, someone could be making pretty good money that is still below the union wage for our cost of living and quality of life here, but we're lumped in with a lot of counties that are from much more expensive jurisdictions where the prevailing wage gets set very high," Ready said. "If you could save a little bit by not having to pay the prevailing wage, you would be able to get a lot more school for your buck."

In April the county commissioners earmarked future funding to replace the aging Carroll County Career and Technology Center, but a school system estimate of the cost of the project increased after construction costs jumped substantially last year. A replacement school is estimated to cost about $97.3 million in total, with funding from the county and the state, according to Carroll County Public Schools' 2018-2022 Capital Improvement Program Plan.

The legislation is filed as county officials, school system officials and local legislators confront funding issues facing CCPS, resulting from declining student enrollment. The Carroll County Board of Education voted in December to close three schools for the 2016-17 school year to reduce the school system's operating costs, with a plan to close two more the following year.

Ted Zaleski, director of management and budget for Carroll County, said there are a lot of unknowns with the Career and Tech Center project.

"I expect that we're going to have more discussions about the Tech Center," Zaleski said. "We're in a really difficult place to talk about what's going to happen here."

Commissioner Steve Wantz, R-District 1, who serves as president of the County Board of Commissioners, expressed support for the legislation.

"I do think it would be an option for us when it comes to cost-saving measures," Wantz said.

Between the summer of 2014 to the middle of 2015, the cost of public school construction increased by about 23 percent across the state, in part because of the economic recession of 2008 and 2009, which caused a reduction in the number of skilled laborers and led to an increase in the prevailing wage of about 11-14 percent, said David Lever, executive director of the state's Public School Construction Program.


CCPS Assistant Superintendent of Administration Jon O'Neal said the school system has fought prevailing wage in the past and will testify in support of the legislation. Replacing the Career and Tech Center has been a priority of the school system for years, O'Neal said.

"The bill has a lot of merit outside of Carroll County," O'Neal said. "Career and technology programs in other counties are also turning kids away."

According to information provided by Career and Tech Center Principal William Eckles, in the 2015-16 school year 917 sophomores applied for Career and Tech Center programs. Of those students, 694 students, or 76 percent, were accepted into programs and more than 200 students were placed on hold due to lack of space, Eckles wrote in an email.

"Although we found ways to accept more total students, the percentage of accepted students went down," he wrote. " As interest increases, if our capacity remains the same, more students will be unable to pursue a CTC program."

Del. Trent Kittleman, R-District 9A, a co-sponsor of the bill, said prevailing wage is an unfair practice because it "jacks up the cost of virtually everything including school buildings and construction for anything else the state has to build and prevents competition."

Her late husband Robert Kittleman, who represented Howard and Carroll counties in the state Senate and House of Delegates, also opposed the state's prevailing wage law.

While Republicans support the idea of reforming prevailing wage laws, Pat Murray, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said Democrats would oppose any effort to weaken the state's prevailing wage law, preferring instead to expand it.

"Democrats believe workers should be paid a livable wage that supports middle-class families," Murray said. "This bill is essentially saying that you can use public dollars to pay workers low wages that will force them to rely on public assistance."

Hearings for the bill are scheduled in the state Senate on March 3 and in the House of Delegates on March 4.