Carroll school board weighs capital plan

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Carroll County school board members took their first look yesterday at a proposed $102.3 million, five-year school construction budget that includes money for the renovation of three aging elementary schools, a modernization and fine arts addition for South Carroll High, and the board's plan toward reluctantly implementing all-day kindergarten as required by the state.

Even as they continue to protest the state's kindergarten directive - county school officials plan to meet with state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick within the next few weeks to make their case for an exemption - administrators are moving forward with plans to phase in full-day programs at the county's 21 elementary schools over the next four years.

They said yesterday that the first two years of the proposed capital budget do not require the construction of any of the 15 to 26 classrooms school officials say they would need if nearly 2,000 half-day kindergartners begin staying all day. Instead, the school district first will implement full-day kindergarten at the eight elementary schools that have enough room to squeeze another class or two of kindergarten into the building.

Then, beginning in fiscal years 2007 and 2008, the system would begin building the extra classrooms, which school officials estimated yesterday will cost $400,000 apiece.

Board members make no secret that they hope the district never reaches that point.

School board President Susan G. Holt pointed out yesterday that Maryland's budget crisis could leave the state without enough money to cover its share of the cost of full-day kindergarten and force state education leaders to abandon ship.

"That's why we have the two-year window with building no classrooms," Holt said. "If there's no funding for the mandate, do we have to do the mandate? It may end up in court."

Unconvinced that they should be required to pay for something that even the staunchest advocates say is not necessary for every child, Carroll board members had set their hopes on legislation that would have exempted them from the all-day kindergarten requirement. But the bill received an unfavorable report in committee, killing its prospects in this year's General Assembly.

If school officials can't persuade Grasmick to relieve Carroll County of the obligation to enroll every kindergartner in full-day programs, Carroll legislators might try next year to organize a coalition of counties that oppose the kindergarten requirement and offer a more broadly written bill that they hope would do better than the Carroll-specific legislation that failed.

The budget request for the fiscal year that begins in July includes money for the $19.4 million renovation of North Carroll Middle in Hampstead, the new $14.7 million Parr's Ridge Elementary in Mount Airy, heating and air-conditioning overhauls, paving projects and roof repairs. The budget proposal for the next four years includes $26.5 million for a new middle school for the South Carroll area; $10.2 million to modernize Freedom Elementary in Eldersburg; $10.9 million to renovate William Winchester Elementary in Westminster; $8.9 million to modernize Charles Carroll Elementary in Silver Run; and $2 million to begin planning the $49.5 renovation and fine arts addition at South Carroll High in Winfield.

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