ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris Glendening vowed Tuesday to use a projected budget surplus to boost spending on school construction to $222 million this year, the largest amount in over 20 years.
Glendening said he would use $88.5 million of an estimated $283 million budget surplus to raise spending on school construction and renovation to the new, higher level.
“Classrooms are still too crowded,” Glendening said. “Too many schools still need renovations. We need to reduce classroom size and modernize our schools.”
But the money, even at the higher level, is only part of what school officials from around the state say they need. School systems this year requested more than $328 million for construction and renovation projects.
School and elected officials will plead Thursday for extra construction money from the Board of Public Works, on which Glendening sits.
“With the extra funding, we’re optimistic that we can get a good portion of what we requested,” said Joe Lavorgna, director of planning and capital programming for Montgomery County schools. “But not everything.”
About 45,000 students in Maryland currently attend class in mobile classrooms such as trailers and temporary rooms, said Yale Stenzler, executive director for the Interagency Commission on School Construction. The commission reviews all requests for construction funding and makes recommendations to the Board of Public Works.
Baltimore County Schools Chief Engineer Gene Neff said his county requested about $31.5 million for school additions and systemic repairs to older buildings. But Stenzler’s commission recommended that Baltimore County get only $9 million.
Lavorgna said Montgomery County requested $69.8 million in construction funding this year — the most of any jurisdiction. Stenzler’s commission recommended that it get $10.6 million, also the most in the state.
On the other end of the scale, Talbot County asked for $296,000 and was recommended to receive $135,000.
Some counties were more successful: Garrett County requested $264,000 and has been recommended for $263,000. Somerset County asked for $680,000 and Kent County asked for $460,000 and both were recommended to get it all.
The interagency commission recommended a total of $107.4 million in school construction projects to the board, which will decide how to allot the extra money.
Allocation of the surplus is still up to the General Assembly, but legislative leaders have said they would like to see the money go to such one-time expenditures.
The Republican Caucus said Tuesday it supports spending the surplus on school construction and House Democratic leaders have said they would like to direct at least $60 million of the surplus to schools construction.
Montgomery County is in the middle of several large construction projects, Lavorgna said, building two new high schools and renovating existing schools. The county has already spent money on many of those projects and is looking to the state to recoup some of its costs, he said.
While the extra money still will not fund all of the requests in the state, Lavorgna said some extra money is better than none.
“This is good news for school construction,” he said.