ANNAPOLIS – With nearly $8 million already in hand for school construction, representatives of the Prince George’s County School District worked Wednesday to convince the state that the district’s needs warrant another $20 million.
County representatives competed with 18 other state school districts for the additional funds, addressing their requests to the governor, comptroller and treasurer at a Board of Public Works meeting.
The dark suits and solemn expressions of Prince George’s representatives contrasted with Bill Clinton quotes and gimmicks used by other counties hoping to bring additional school construction funds to their districts.
“I think you saw a much more somber presentation because we’re in a much more somber position than the rest of the state,” said Del. John S. Morgan, R-Prince George’s.
At issue were recommendations by the Interagency Committee on School Construction, which oversees Maryland’s School Construction Program.
Schools submit capital improvement programs by December 7 of each year. The committee then meets with school boards before making recommendations to the Board of Public Works. Localities can appeal the committee’s recommendations to the board, which has the final say before the recommendations are presented to the General Assembly.
There was much at stake at Wednesday’s hearing: Of the $138.4 million available for school construction statewide, $65.9 million has not yet been appropriated. The schools will be notified in May of the amounts they were awarded.
Morgan said that Prince George’s County needs “every penny of the $20 million we put before the Board of Public Works” to remedy current problems in the school district.
Kevin Johnson, representing the district, said the county will gain 3,000 students next year and 18,000 by the year 2006. He said the county has brought in 389 temporary classrooms to alleviate overcrowding — the equivalent to about 15 schools.
“We have already maxed out on the temporary solution we had,” Johnson said.
Superintendent Jerome Clark said the school district is the state’s largest, and complained, “We have not gotten the kind of funding for capital projects that we should have.”
The county requested the additional money to renovate Ardmore Elementary School and Northwestern High School, expand a program for disruptive youths and add classrooms to three elementary schools — Apple Grove, Kettering and Templeton.
In addition, representatives requested planning authority for three schools, including Croom Vocational School, which was built in 1950 and no longer meets safety codes. Also on their wish list was money for systemic repairs on nine elementary schools.
“It’s quite an embarrassment after a rainy day to have so many buckets in our hallways,” said Deputy Superintendent Robert Slade.
Several county lawmakers appeared to express their support.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, discussed the need to replace temporary classrooms with new buildings, specifically mentioning the 21 temporary classrooms of Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
“It seems to me a student’s high school experience should not be walking from one temporary classroom to another,” he said.
Del. Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, gave her support for renovating the high school she attended. “When I graduated from Northwestern High School, it was already 10 years old, so you can imagine how old and dilapidated it is now,” she said.
And Del. Michael A. Crumlin, D-Prince George’s, discussed his concern for his children: “I’m begging you, I’m pleading with you, lend your support to Prince George’s County or I’ll take my kids somewhere else.”
Treasurer Richard N. Dixon openly supported the county’s bid, particularly for renovating Northwestern.
“Delegate [Richard A.] Palumbo and I are blood brothers,” he said.
Dixon, who rarely expressed such support for other school districts during the meeting, later continued, “If this school is important to Delegate Palumbo and Delegate [Decatur W.] Trotter…I’m supporting it.”
Morgan said the treasurer’s support was an encouraging sign. “I think the Board of Public Works will balance out its past performance and give us the lion’s share of the [requested] $20 million,” he said. -30-