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Woodlawn school needs aid, panel says


Featherbed Lane Elementary School in Woodlawn is deteriorating and overcrowded, but it is not slated to receive any renovations in the Baltimore County school system's preliminary capital budget request - an omission that worries some school board members.

The school desperately needs renovation to relieve the crowding and to ensure the safety of its 820 pupils, the members said.

"I'm concerned," Michael P. Kennedy, a board member, told school officials presenting the $105 million budget request Tuesday night. "I would like to know what the plan is to relieve the overcrowding and building conditions."

The capital budget calls for the construction of an addition to an elementary school in the northwestern part of the county, most likely New Town Elementary in Owings Mills.

It also would provide funding for a new Windsor Mills Middle School and an addition to the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson.

Science laboratories would be renovated at a several high schools, and some middle schools would receive funding for major maintenance projects.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Kennedy said some of Featherbed Lane's older pupils attend classes in temporary facilities that lack bathrooms. He said they must walk outside to go to the library, cafeteria and music class. The art teacher must carry her supplies and materials to the temporary buildings by cart, he said.

Board member Warren C. Hayman said at the meeting that funding is also needed to correct traffic patterns at the school, which threaten the children's safety. The school sits on a cul-de-sac, making it difficult for emergency vehicles to get to it.

"I don't know how we could not include that in our capital request because there are some serious issues there," Hayman said. He later described the school as "certainly an eyesore and a disservice to this community."

Barbara S. Burnopp, the system's executive director of fiscal services, emphasized to board members that the budget proposal was preliminary, and that they could alter it.

Featherbed Lane Elementary consists of a main building built in 1958 and seven modular units. The main building was renovated in 1980 and an addition was built in 1997.

Capital budgets involve funding for construction, renovation and major maintenance projects. The school board, which will study the proposal during a public work session Monday night, must approve the budget request before sending it to the County Council and the Maryland State Department of Education for approval.

The proposed capital budget is three times larger than the current one of $35.6 million, but less than the capital budgets in previous years.

School officials are working on the operating budget and have not presented it to the board.

It is far from certain that the school system will get what it wants, especially during these tough economic times when the state faces a rising budget shortfall. Board members and school officials have been encouraging parents to lobby state and county politicians for full funding.

The parents have urged school officials to play tough with county budget officers.

"We can't be too nice in the budget process," said Meg O'Hare, chairwoman of the Northeast Area Advisory Council. "We need to ask for what we really need and not let them tell us what we really need."

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