Smith to ask state for additional school building money

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With nearly $75 million still up for grabs for school construction statewide, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said yesterday that he plans to continue to lobby for more money to meet his aging school system's needs.

While Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s 2006 capital budget proposal earmarks about $5.1 million for five school projects, ranging from new boilers at two schools to new school construction on the west side, Smith said he is confident that the county's share will increase. The county schools have requested $70 million.

"It's clear that the [governor's] administration has heard the school renovation and construction ... message -- how important that is," Smith said. "I call it a crisis. It is a crisis."

Pot of money grows

The Baltimore County school projects included in Ehrlich's proposal are the same five recommended by the Interagency Committee on School Construction last month. But the governor recently increased the expected $100 million available for school construction by $55 million -- a move lauded by Smith, who last year criticized the governor's decision to cut funding to the county and called the state budget situation a "train wreck."

According to the governor's 2006 budget proposal, $74.9 million in school construction money remains "unallocated."

Yesterday, Smith, whose office sent out a news release praising Ehrlich's capital budget proposal and pledging to work with the governor on "reasonable slots legislation," said he is just giving credit where it is due.

'Strong' budget

"I'm interested in getting results, getting things done, taking care of responsibility," he said. "This capital budget is strong for Baltimore County, and I recognize that."

In addition to the schools money, Ehrlich's budget proposal includes $18.5 million for 11 other capital projects in Baltimore County, including $2 million for infrastructure to support Towson Circle III, a planned development expected to include housing for Towson University students; $600,000 for a new library at the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus; and about $8 million for the continuing expansion and renovation of the county jail.

"Baltimore County could have gotten more, but we fared pretty well," said council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Democrat.

County school officials said it's still early in the budget process.

Needs will remain

"We're still looking at and investigating any money that may be out there," said schools spokesman Charles A. Herndon. "The needs of the county are not going away anytime soon, and they are extensive."

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