School systems lobby for more building money

Flanked by county executives, legislators and community supporters, Maryland's school superintendents put their best faces forward yesterday as they asked the Board of Public Works for hundreds of million of dollars more in school construction money than the state has this year.

At the annual hearing that has become known as the "beg-a-thon," Baltimore County alone requested nearly all of the $26.1 million of school construction and renovation money that has yet to be distributed statewide this year. Howard County asked for nearly twice that, with a $48 million request.


Sen. Larry E. Haines, chairman of Carroll's all-Republican legislative delegation, used a Biblical story about a beggar constantly seeking leftovers from a wealthy landowner to illustrate the unenviable position of anyone pleading a case before state officials yesterday.

"I don't think anybody came in here today just looking for crumbs from the rich man's table," Haines told the board. "We desperately need reimbursement for Winters Mill High School."


Having received approval for three of the five requests on their school construction and renovation list this year, Carroll County officials asked for an additional $7.3 million yesterday. That request included nearly $4.5 million in reimbursement for the county's costs in the construction of Winters Mill, the $34 million school that opened just outside Westminster in August 2002, and $2.8 million to overhaul the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system at Westminster's West Middle School.

"It's one of four or five schools in Carroll County that's not air-conditioned yet," schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker told the board. He added that the middle school was among the buildings deemed inadequate during the state's recent survey of nearly every public school in Maryland.

Carroll County has received approval for nearly $4 million worth of projects this year, including about $3 million toward construction of the $14.5 million Parr's Ridge Elementary in Mount Airy and $1 million toward the $18.2 million renovation of North Carroll Middle near Hampstead.

The $3 million allocation would be the second installment in the state's share of the cost of building Parr's Ridge.

The $1 million award for North Carroll Middle would supplement $5 million allocated by the board over the past two years toward the modernization of the 48-year-old school, where renovation work is scheduled to get under way this week.

State school planners also have approved this year Carroll County's plan to build new kindergarten classrooms, which would provide space needed to implement the state requirement that all kindergartners be enrolled in full-day programs by the 2007-2008 school year. The county has not yet asked the state for money to build the additional rooms.

Statewide, Maryland's 24 school systems requested a total of $378 million for 304 projects. The state has $101.6 million available. Of that, state officials have divvied up $75.5 million, leaving counties to compete for what's left.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp -- the trio who sit on the Board of Public Works -- will decide how to distribute the remaining money this spring, after the state's capital budget has been approved.


Money could be added to or subtracted from the remaining $26.1 million, but state officials said more money is unlikely. School system officials are hoping for additions.

"Obviously, the needs exceed the available resources," said state schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick. "There are many more requests than could be accommodated."

Grasmick added, however, that school systems did a good job prioritizing their requests.

Anne Arundel County, which has received a commitment of about $4 million -- a fifth of what school officials requested -- asked yesterday for $16 million more. Baltimore asked for $12.6 million in addition to the $7.7 million the state already has committed. Baltimore County requested $25.5 million on top of the $5.2 million approved. Harford County asked for $5 million beyond the $1.6 million granted. And Howard County requested $48.3 million in addition to the $4.3 million already earmarked.

Haines, chairman of Carroll's legislative delegation, emphasized his appreciation for the approval of Carroll projects this year.

"I think we have a governor who is very sensitive to Carroll County's needs," he said. "It's a whole new era in Annapolis, especially for Carroll County."


Sun staff writers Tricia Bishop, Laura Loh, Ted Shelsby, Tanika White and Kimberly A.C. Wilson contributed to this article.