ANNAPOLIS – Southern Maryland officials pleaded Thursday for a bigger chunk of the state’s $222 million proposed school construction budget, citing the region’s explosive growth.
Calvert County officials, for example, said the school population is growing at an average rate of 5.5 percent, or an additional 600 students, a year. At that rate, said Calvert school board President William Phalen, the county would need another elementary school every year.
“I have to cope with this tremendous amount of growth in our region,” said Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, who also represents Calvert County.
The lawmakers and school officials from Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties made their pleas to the Maryland Board of Public Works, which will dole out the school construction money.
Gov. Parris Glendening, who sits on the board, has proposed spending $222 million on school construction and renovation projects this year, the most in more than two decades.
Glendening and Comptroller Louis Goldstein, who also sits on the board, chided lawmakers who came seeking more money for their local schools while also talking about cutting the budget to support a tax cut.
“You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Goldstein said.
Glendening said that voting against his proposed budget would be voting against schools.
Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, said Glendening and Goldstein made the subject “quite an issue” during the hearings.
“I think that had to be said,” Middleton said. “There’s a legitimate point there.”
But he said lawmakers should be free to vote on the budget as they see fit. “I think it’s our prerogative as a legislator to comment on the governor’s budget,” he said.
Del. Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, said too much political bickering often surrounds education spending.
“In general terms, it’s a very political process,” O’Donnell said. “We shouldn’t focus so much on politics when dealing with public education and our children’s future.”
But O’Donnell, whose district includes Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, said he was optimistic that both counties would receive their requested funds.
The school requests have already been evaluated by the Interagency Committee on School Construction, which recommended a first round of spending to the Board of Public Works. County officials who appeared Thursday were seeking to increase those amounts.
Calvert County asked for $4.6 million and was recommended to receive $3.1 million for school construction. The committee recommended that the planned Dowell Elementary School in the southern end of the county be trimmed back from the proposed 710 students to accommodate only 634 students.
But Calvert County officials said they need the larger school and $1.4 million more to build it.
“There is absolutely no question that the additional 100 seats (at Dowell) will be filled,” Phalen said.
Charles County asked to add $6.7 million to the state’s initial recommendation of $5.3 million.
Charles County officials said the money is needed for repairs at two schools. Lackey High School, built in 1969, needs renovations and additions and needs to be updated to meet science, career and technology program standards. School officials also said they want to repair the 1977 roof on Piccowaxen Middle School.
The county expects its school population to grow by 2.7 percent next year, said Sharon Caniglia, chairman of the Charles County Board of Education.
“I think the Charles County consortium presented a good case,” said Middleton. He said he thinks the county may receive the funds, especially since Glendening visited Lackey High School last year and saw its needs.
Charles County is the second-fastest growing county in the state, he said, with much of the expansion stemming from the relocation of jobs to the Patuxent Naval Air Station in neighboring St. Mary’s County.
Because of that growth, St. Mary’s County asked for more funds to renovate and repair five schools to meet its growing number of students.
Five schools — Esperanza Middle School, Banneker/Loveville Elementary School, Town Creek Elementary, Margaret Brent Middle School and Green Holly Elementary School — need renovations or additions, said St. Mary’s County Superintendent Pat Richardson.
The county asked for $1.3 million more than the $5.7 million recommended by the IAC.