Gov. O'Malley highlights state school funding

The Baltimore Sun

A day after proposing one of the most austere state budgets in the past two decades, Gov. Martin O'Malley stopped at a Baltimore County high school yesterday to highlight a brighter point in his spending plan - $333 million for school renovation and construction projects in the coming year.

It is the second-highest amount of money proposed for such work, county and state officials said. The appropriation for this school year - $400 million - was the highest, they said.

"There's nothing that speaks to the expectations that we have of our children quite so much as the condition of the buildings in which learning and teaching take place," O'Malley said after touring Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville.

"This school is in desperate need - and has been for a good long while - of a new roof," he said. "We're going to make sure that ... there is the money in the state budget so that they can get a new roof to protect the important work that goes on here."

Western is expected to receive nearly $900,000 to replace portions of the roof and walls.

Though less than the current school year's building budget, O'Malley's proposed spending plan exceeds the goal of $250 million that a 2003 state commission recommended. He said higher costs for construction materials make it necessary to spend more than the commission recommended several years ago.

Education, state and county leaders - including Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston and Wilson H. Parran, president of the Calvert County Commissioners - who joined the governor and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown on his tour of Western said the money will help improve schools across the state.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who is seeking $80.7 million for school construction and renovations, said the governor's proposal is "a significant commitment, particularly in light of the state's fiscal circumstances."

"This is going to enable us to fund our middle school renovations," Smith said. "It'll get us about a year ahead of schedule, depending on how much our county gets."

Baltimore County school board President JoAnn C. Murphy said she was "thrilled" to hear that the governor has proposed high-level spending on school construction in a year of otherwise tight spending.

"I'm hopeful we'll get a reasonable share of that so we can move some projects that we have waited too long to be done," she said.

The state's school construction committee has set recommended funding levels, but it is customary for school system leaders to appeal those recommendations. The committee's recommendation as of last month was for Baltimore County schools to receive $19.6 million.

The General Assembly sets the state's school construction budget in April or May, and the state Board of Public Works must approve it.

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