ANNAPOLIS – Southern Marylanders came with hats in hand to the Statehouse Wednesday, pleading for school construction money to serve their fast-growing counties.
“I have come here not to appeal, but to beg,” Del. George W. Owings III, D-Calvert, told the Board of Public Works.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, and State Treasurer Richard N. Dixon presided over the hearings, at which all school districts combined requested nearly $310 million dollars.
The available pot of money is $138.4 million, of which $72.5 million had already been allocated by the Interagency Committee on School Construction, which recommends school construction budgets to the governor’s office. At stake was the remainder: $65.9 million.
Owings made a special appeal for money to build South Central Elementary school, which has been in planning for the four years. School officials say that during the past year, Calvert County elementary schools grew by 674 students, enough to fill an entire new school.
Calvert County School Board President Mary Billings told the board there were at least two factors driving the push for a new elementary school:
* A lack of space for mobile units to hold classes for student overflow.
* The looming expansion of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
“With so many of the families from the base relocating to Calvert County, we realized the demand on us for new schools,” Billings said. “The construction of South Central is this year’s priority, but next year it is the middle school and the year after that it will be our high school.”
Sen. Roy Dyson, D-Calvert, pointed out that Calvert was the largest growing county in the state, with the population projected to increase 94 percent by the year 2020.
Calvert County’s total request for construction funds this year was $3,292,000. The Interagency Committee recommended that it receive $2,930,000.
Charles County, meanwhile, requested $21 million, and so far is assured of only 4 million.
Sharon W. Canigilia, chairman of the Charles County Board of Education, said the county still needed money to update Lackey High School in Indian Head, which has not had renovations since it was built in 1969, and Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf.
“Both Lackey and Stone need to be brought up to date, particularly in the areas of science, career and technology programs,” Canigilia said.
Del. Samuel C. Linton, D-Charles, emphasized that his delegation was listening to Glendening when the governor unveiled the Smart Growth program. That’s Glendening’s strategy to curb suburban sprawl by improving what has already been built, instead of starting over on new ground.
“We changed direction, from new construction to the renovation of established buildings,” said Linton.
St. Mary’s County is also expecting population growth related to the Naval installation, and asked Wednesday for funds for five different projects.
The first two deal with overcrowding in he high schools. Within the next five years, St. Mary’s officials project a shortage of 816 high school seats, and within 10 years, a shortage of 1,365 seats. The Board of Education wants to expand and renovate two high schools, Chopticon, in Morganza, and Leonardtown.
“St. Mary’s County needs support from the state to expand the capacity of our existing schools to accommodate the existing enrollment,” said Dr. Patricia Richardson, acting superintendent of schools.
St. Mary’s is appealing the Interagency Committee’s recommendation that the school district receive $1 million of the county’s $13.7 million request. The Board of Public Works will notify the school systems of its decision within the first few weeks of May, after the General Assembly session concludes. -30-