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Howard officials monitor Hogan's school construction plan; union officials say dollars needed for operating budget, too

Howard officials monitor Hogan's school construction plan; union officials say dollars needed for operating budget, too
Gov. Larry Hogan announced investment of $3.5 million for new school construction at a press conference at Highland Park Elementary School earlier this week. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Howard County school officials say they’ll monitor progress on Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal to allocate nearly $2 billion in additional dollars to statewide school construction projects, but a spokesman said it’s “premature to begin to make assumptions” about how any of that funding might be used in the county.

Still, spokesman Brian Bassett noted in an email, “there are still needs in our buildings that additional funding would help to address.”

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Hogan announced last week his intention to fund $3.5 billion in school construction across the state over the next several years, with $1.9 billion coming from expected revenues from casino operations in the state. A measure endorsed by the governor and the Maryland General Assembly — and affirmed by voters in a referendum item on last month’s ballot — mandates that the casino revenue be used only for school funding.

Hogan, a Republican, said he plans to submit legislation during the 2019 General Assembly session to add the $1.9 billion to another $1.6 billion in public school construction funding that is currently included in the state’s five-year capital budget.

He did not release a list of schools that would receive the capital funding, but the governor said the money would cover “more than 90 percent of the projects requested by local school systems from 2020 to 2024.”

In September, Howard County Superintendent Michael Martirano recommended a $89.2 million capital budget for the school system’s 2020 budget year, part of an overall $938 million, 10-year master plan for capital projects.

Bassett said the school system has identified “three essential projects” in the capital budget: a replacement building for Talbott Springs Elementary School, slated to open in September 2022; and two other projects targeted for completion in August 2023 — building the county’s 13th high school in Jessup and a renovation and additional of Hammond High School.

Bassett said officials with the school system have been “in constant communication with the state” and have worked with county officials as well to “to ensure funding for [the] three essential projects moving forward.”

Colleen Morris, president of Howard’s teacher’s union, was wary of Hogan’s plan to allocate the casino money only for capital projects, saying schools need help in other areas as well.

Recent recommendations from a statewide Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — often referred to as the Kirwan Commission — have suggested that the state begin offering full-day education for 3-year-olds from low-income households; universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds; increased funding for schools where many students live in concentrated poverty; and raises for teachers.

The commission is considering recommending a phased-in annual increase of $4.4 billion for operating schools in Maryland. Hogan said that level spending can’t be done without raising taxes — which he pledged not to do.

“No, we cannot afford that,” the governor said. “We’re not going to raise any of those taxes.”

Morris said the teachers union supports the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, but she said there is no money at the local level to fund full-day education for 3-year-olds and universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds — meaning school systems would need help from the state.

Morris said both operational and capital spending needs must be addressed.

“If the governor is allocating all the funds from the casino revenues into capital [spending], how will those very necessary supports and recommendations be funded?” she asked. “A [local school system] cannot afford them.”

In his email, Bassett said “ultimately, this issue will come before the [school] board and they will have open dialogue on how to allocate any additional funding that may be realized.”

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As the school system gains a clear indication of what additional funding may come Howard County’s way, Martirano and the board “will work together to articulate our request for funding,” he said.

Mavis Ellis, chair of the county school board, could not be reached for comment.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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