While the Howard County Board of Education approved putting the Talbott Springs Elementary School replacement project and the Hammond High School renovation and addition back on the table Thursday night, there are concerns there will not be enough money.
“I am profoundly worried we will not have enough money,” school board member Jen Mallo said at Thursday’s meeting. “We care about you, we value you … but know that we are worried, we are worried that we will not have enough money.”
The school board unanimously approved the fiscal 2021 $56.01 million capital budget request and put Talbott Springs Elementary and Hammond High’s projects back on the priority list after both were removed earlier this month.
Other projects on the priority list are the 13th county high school in Jessup, scheduled to open in September 2023, and a new boiler at Hammond Middle School.
Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano lowered the capital budget request for fiscal 2021 from $135.6 million to $56.01 million after learning of anticipated funding from the county.
“I support the board moving forward with this [adding the projects back in] and I recommend that you do, but please note, do not set our community up for expectations without the total advocacy of us working together because we are going to have to make a decision by December,” Martirano said.
Once “shovels are in the ground,” projects have to begin and stay on track, which is why the school board will again address the top priorities of the capital budget in December, six months ahead of when Hammond High is scheduled to break ground on its renovation if the original timeline stays put.
Hammond High’s addition, which would provide 200 more seats at the 1,220-seat school — not including portable classrooms — was pushed back earlier this month to being completed in September 2026 instead of September 2023.
Carleen Pena of Columbia repeated the phrase “I am angry” several times while giving testimony Thursday night.
“I am angry that my daughter, a sophomore at Hammond, started in the school and it hasn’t been touched, [when] it should have been completed before she got there. I am angry that our children are being used as political pawns. I am angry that promises have been made to our community,” she said.
To Pena, “equity is the most overused word in this county.”
“I wish I had a dollar for every time a county official or a school official used the word equity. We would have paid for both of these schools and be on our way to high school 14 right now,” she said.
She ended her testimony by telling the school board what matters in her opinion.
“I am telling you right now that Hammond matters, I am telling you right now that Talbott Springs matters. And I am telling you right now that it is your job to fix these schools,” Pena said.
Sarah Mugo, whose children attend Talbott Springs Elementary, was also angry.
“I am very angry. I am beyond angry,” the Columbia resident said during her testimony.
“It’s not too much to ask for our kids to get the same as other kids in Howard County,” she said. “You already know our pain, you can feel it in me and I am willing to keep fighting.”
The 587-seat replacement building for Talbott Springs Elementary, which was scheduled to open in September 2022, was presented earlier this month to be pushed out until September 2027.
Talbott Springs opened in 1973 as a one-story building. The school has had two additions, in 2000 and 2008, and a minor renovation in 2013.
The anticipated funding from the county for this year’s capital budget is from $41 million to $48 million, county budget administrator Holly Sun previously said. The state will provide the remaining money, which is expected to be around $10 million, according to a schools spokesman.
Last year, the school system’s capital budget request resulted in a shortfall of about $37.7 million after the county funded $54.6 million of the school system’s $92.3 million request.
Deferred projects in the capital budget include the opening of Howard’s 43rd elementary school and the renovation and addition at Dunloggin Middle School. Both were scheduled to be completed in 2024 and will be pushed out four and six years, respectively.
The school board unanimously approved the construction report of the future 13th high school. From here, the project will begin its bidding process for construction.
Several updates to the 1,650-seat high school were presented to the school board, including reconfiguring the gym locker room and the kitchen, and increasing corridor widths. The outdoor cafeteria, the art patio and stormwater management facilities designs were also further developed.
The school board also received a report on two proposals for the 2020-21 academic calendar.
In March, the Maryland General Assembly voted to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that will allow public schools to begin classes before Labor Day beginning with the current academic year. Howard schools opted to keep their existing calendar for the 2019-20 year.
However, the school system is looking to begin before Labor Day next year.
In the first proposal, the first day of school would be Aug. 25, 2020, and the last day would be June 10, 2021. In the second proposal, Howard schools would open a week later, on Aug. 31, and would end June 15.
There will be a public hearing on the proposals Oct. 17, with the school board expected to vote on the proposals Nov. 7.
In other business, the school board unanimously approved the appointment of Darin D. Conforti as the executive director of budget for the school system. Conforti was previously acting director of the Prince George’s Department of Recreation and Parks, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.