$6 million set for school construction State money is lowest amount in five years; 'We're very disappointed'; Several projects to ease crowding will be delayed


Gov. Parris N. Glendening's generosity to Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties left Howard County with nothing but crumbs yesterday as he gave the county its smallest package of state school construction aid in five years.

The $6 million in state money for Howard school construction -- announced by Glendening during a visit to Hammond Elementary School -- disappointed county educators, political leaders and legislators, some of whom blamed the politics behind securing legislative passage of the governor's aid package for Baltimore schools.

The smaller-than-expected state funding means that several Howard school projects are all but certain to be postponed, delaying relief for some of the county's overcrowded schools and renovations for some of its aging ones.

"We're very disappointed," said Sandra French, chairwoman of the school board. "We had expected a lot more than this."

County educators had been told in January by state officials that Howard would receive at least $4.2 million in the first round of state construction aid for the 1997-98 school year, including money for the new Murray Hill Middle School, an addition to Hammond High School and new roofs at Howard and Mount Hebron high schools.

Yesterday's announcement -- for the second round of school construction aid -- added just $1.8 million to that total, including money for the new Fulton Elementary School and the addition at Hammond Elementary.

But last month, county educators and County Executive Charles I. Ecker had confidently said they expected no less than an additional $6 million from the governor in the second round.

And they had hoped for as much as $10 million -- amounts which would have given Howard a total package of state construction aid of between $10 million and $14 million.

The total of $6 million from the two rounds is 33 percent less than the county received last year -- though it comes in a year when the state has set aside $150 million for school construction aid, the most in at least two decades.

Largest counties

But more than half of that money was promised by Glendening to Maryland's three largest counties -- including $38 million to Montgomery County.

Montgomery and Prince George's legislators had been the most outspoken critics of the governor's $254 million, five-year settlement with the Baltimore schools, complaining that their schools, too, need more state education aid.

"I think that there wasn't anything left after he gave to Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties," said Ecker, a Republican who is considering challenging Glendening next year.

Howard school board member Stephen Bounds agreed: "He can't get re-elected without Montgomery and Prince George's counties, so I guess that's where the money had to go."

While the state Board of Public Works still must formally vote on the construction aid package next month, the other two board members -- Treasurer Richard N. Dixon and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein -- joined Glendening at Hammond Elementary yesterday and indicated their support.

The governor promised that Howard schools would see much more funding for the 1998-99 school year, in part because he also announced planning approval yesterday for the new Hollifield Station Elementary School and the new elementary scheduled to open in 1998 on Gorman Road in North Laurel.

"Howard County will see a larger amount of money next year, no question about it," Glendening said in an interview after yesterday's announcement.

Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat who represents east Columbia and the southeastern area of Howard, agreed: "I think that after the four years is over, this governor will have been better to Howard County in giving school construction aid than any other governor in history."

Promises, promises

But that promise does little to help the school system's construction plans for next year, educators said yesterday.

Howard school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said no decisions have been made as to which projects will be eliminated or cut. But it seems likely that one of the two new middle schools proposed for Fulton and Ellicott City will have to be delayed, and renovations and repairs to older schools may need to be postponed, too.

For the county's legislative delegation, the amount of school construction aid typically has served as a barometer of its performance for Howard residents.

"Maybe we're seeing the effects of the [Republican] delegates who voted against the capital budget," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat who represents Columbia and served as the chairwoman of the county's delegates this year. "It's kind of hard to ask for school construction aid and vote against the capital budget year after year and then expect to be able to get away with it."

But Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House Republican whip who represents western Howard, said he does not believe the awarding of school construction aid has become the governor's tool for political rewards and punishment.

"I would think that the process has not become that overly politicized," Flanagan said. "If he has politicized this, then it's a very sad day for education in the state of Maryland."

The bad news about school construction funding in Howard contrasted with the joy Glendening's visit created among the North Laurel elementary's students.

The governor watched third-graders play putt-putt in physical education, sat on the floor of a first-grade classroom to read "The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash" and questioned another group of first-graders about how they would spend $1 million in state money if they had the chance.

"I would give it to teachers," 7-year-old Alex Leikin told the governor, earning applause from the onlooking teachers.

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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