Budget cut to delay school construction


In a move to save on major expenses, the Howard County Board of Education voted yesterday to cut the proposed capital budget for fiscal 1994.

School officials said the cut would delay construction of three elementary schools and exacerbate overcrowding.

The board tentatively cut the $62.8 million capital budget for 1994 to $45.7 million and also approved Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's proposal to spend $250 million on 14 new schools, additions and renovations over 10 years.

The board will give final approval to the budget in February.

Under the proposal acted on yesterday, construction of three schools in the western and southeastern portions of the county would be delayed by one year. They are: Western Elementary #2, which would open in 1996; Southeastern Elementary #3, in 1997; and Western Elementary #3, in 1998.

Although delaying construction would save money on major expenses in 1994, it would exacerbate crowding in the western and southeastern regions, school administrators said.

"Those were the best places to cut," said Maurice Kalin, associate superintendent of planning and support. "But they have dramatic consequences."

Opening Western Elementary #2 in 1996 will cause at least 40 percent overcapacity at West Friendship Elementary, Mr. Kalin said. Deferring Southeastern Elementary by one year will cause 22 percent overcapacity at Laurel Woods Elementary in Laurel. School officials plan to add more portable classrooms at those schools to accommodate the extra students.

The board also agreed to spread construction costs for Eastern High School over two years. Of $25.9 million to be spent on the school in 1994, about $10 million was shifted to 1995. The school still is to open on time in 1996.

School officials said the ambitious building program is imperative to prevent crowding.

"We're going to have to bite as much of the bullet as we can to avoid passing the problem on to the next board [of education] or generation," Mr. Kalin said. "This is a conservative budget."

Of the money that would be budgeted for 1994, about $9 million will come from state sources and transfer taxes, the balance from the sale of county bonds.

To save money in the future, Mr. Hickey said he plans to provide informational reports to the board on year-round schooling, increasing class size, building cheaper schools, and leasing buildings.

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