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State won't fund 2 schools; Enrollment figures don't justify sites in Westminster, Md. says; 'We were ignored'; Carroll receives $6.8 million of construction funds

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In handing out a record $300.7 million in school construction and renovation money yesterday, the state again denied funding for Westminster's Cranberry Station Elementary School and a new high school because enrollment does not justify the two schools.

That means Carroll County taxpayers face the prospect of footing the bill for the nearly $10 million elementary school that opened under capacity last fall and for the $35.4 million high school scheduled to open in 2002.

State officials have said that Carroll is the first county in Maryland to proceed with construction of a high school without any guarantee of state reimbursement.

"There's no money and no planning recognition because the demographics and enrollment projections just don't support it," said Yale Stenzler, executive director of Maryland's Interagency Committee on School Construction, which determines whether projects across Maryland receive state funding.

Carroll County received $6.8 million, including $5.86 million to help pay for Century High School, which is scheduled to open next year in Eldersburg; $485,000 to help replace the roof at Liberty High School; $260,000 for science programs at South Carroll High; $13,000 to pay for computer wiring at Carroll Springs Elementary; and planning money for the Gateway School for older students with behavioral problems.

The county appealed to the state for help to pay for Shiloh Middle School, which is scheduled to open this fall in Hampstead, but it was not among those that received funding yesterday.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's announcement at a news conference at Western High School in Baltimore came as no surprise to the Carroll school and county officials who drove to the city to hear the news.

"I think we got precisely what I expected," Superintendent William H. Hyde said after the governor's announcement.

County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier agreed, saying, "We received what was justifiably ours. The new Century High School is needed, and when the numbers are there, we usually get funding. But we're not going to get any gifts."

Frazier has urged her colleagues to hold off building the Westminster high school until new enrollment projections are available in September and until the school system straightens out difficulties in its construction department, which is the subject of a nearly yearlong grand jury investigation.

'A stronger shot'

But the county and school system are forging ahead. The school board approved a grading contract last month, and preliminary site work has begun at the site of the school off Center Street outside Westminster. The county planning commission will review site plans for the 1,200-student school next month.

Hyde said he is "hopeful that next year we'll have a stronger shot" at getting approval for the new school.

But five-year enrollment projections do not make Carroll eligible for state endorsement, the approval that all but guarantees a large chunk of state construction money. Unless those projections change, Carroll officials should not expect state funding next year, either, said Stenzler.

The county has about five years from the date it approves a construction contract to offer enrollment figures that justify state funding. That means school officials have until December 2002 to get reimbursement for Cranberry Station and until 2005 to obtain funding for the high school.

Stenzler plans to meet with the superintendent this summer to review enrollments at neighboring high schools and the school system's plan to reduce the capacity of the current Westminster High School to 1,600 from 2,000 to make room for vocational programs. "That may have an impact on enrollment numbers," he said. "It may. I have a 'may' in there."

'Bottom of the totem pole'

During the news briefing, the governor recognized and invited to the podium officials from each jurisdiction represented -- Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties -- with the exception of Carroll.

County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said that was typical of this governor. "Of course, we're at the bottom of the totem pole," she said, gesturing toward a poster-size graphic of state funding for school construction projects in Baltimore and its suburbs. "We were not recognized at all even though we're all here. We were completely ignored."

Glendening praised yesterday's funding announcement as indicative of a "platinum age" of school construction and renovation in the state, an effort to rebuild older schools in established neighborhoods and bring classroom technology up to modern standards.

"Our actions here today move us into the 21st century in a major way so that teachers can teach in the most modern schools in the entire country," the governor said.

Glendening said he hopes to provide $1 billion to schools for such things as new windows, doors, science laboratories and high-tech wiring by the end of his second four-year term in 2003. During his first four years in office, the state contributed $633.5 million to school systems for capital improvements.

"That $633 million allowed us to add and to modernize 6,000 classrooms across the state of Maryland, to reduce class size, deal with overcrowding and bring schools up to the standards of the 21st century," he said.

Across the nation, it's the same story. Aging schools are ill-equipped to meet modern classroom needs, such as high-tech wiring, telephone connections, and air conditioners to keep computer equipment cool.

Recently, a report by the National Education Association, which represents about 2.5 million educators, estimated that public schools nationwide will need $322 billion to renovate and modernize their classrooms.

In Maryland, the push to repair dilapidated schools has been helped recently by a booming economy that produced a budget surplus of nearly $1 billion this year. Most of the money to pay for the capital projects Glendening announced yesterday will come out of cash reserves, federal bonds and tobacco settlement funds.

$51.2 million to Montgomery

Montgomery County will get the most school construction and repair money, $51.2 million for 79 projects during the next school year. Baltimore will receive $46.8 million for 118 projects, and Prince George's County will receive $46.5 million for 52 projects.

Glendening's announcement brought smiles to the faces of Baltimore officials, who had asked the state for about $41 million to help rebuild and modernize schools, including some in the city's oldest neighborhoods.

In Baltimore County, where many schools were built before the 1970s, school officials will receive $39.6 million, about $2 million short of the amount they requested from the state.

Still, school board members said they were pleased that the state was able to bolster the county's school renovation plan, which aims to funnel about $530 million to aging schools during the next three years.

Anne Arundel County received $20.5 million for 75 projects; Harford County, $9.5 million for nine projects; and Howard County, $20.7 million for 34 projects.

School repair and construction money for Eastern Shore and Western Maryland counties will be announced today at a meeting of the state Board of Public Works in Annapolis.

Sun staff writers JoAnna Daemmrich, Michael Dresser and Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

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