ANNAPOLIS – Despite a dire need for new schools, Prince George’s County leaders said last year that they could not accept more than $20 million from the state for school construction.
They weren’t sure the county could come up with the matching funds if the state allocated any more than that.
But Prince George’s Superintendent Jerome Clark believes that this year the county can back the schools’ request for nearly $43 million in state aid and meet its obligation to pay 40 percent of any school construction.
Clark’s comments Thursday came after a group of Prince George’s officials appealed to the Board of Public Works for a larger share of the projected $222 million budget for statewide school construction this year.
The Interagency Committee on School Construction, which reviews funding requests from school systems around the state, had recommended that Prince George’s County get $9.8 million this year.
But county lawmakers and school officials told the board that Prince George’s needs its full $43 million request. The Board of Public Works could have as much as an additional $114 million to dole out if the legislature agrees with the governor’s full school spending plan.
Prince George’s school board Chairman Alvin Thornton outlined “sobering” enrollment projections that show the county school population will jump from the current 125,637 students to 135,866 by 2004-05.
Del. James Proctor, D-Prince George’s, said the school system is currently using about 400 temporary classrooms, a handicap that could he blamed for the district’s woeful academic performance.
“When we have this many temporaries, the test scores are not going to be where we want them,” said Proctor, a former school principal.
Gov. Parris Glendening, one of three members of the Board of Public Works, agreed with Proctor on the necessity of reducing the number of temporary classrooms. He called the classrooms “distracting” and “unsightly.”
But Comptroller Louis Goldstein — who sits on the board with Glendening and Treasurer Richard Dixon — grilled speakers about rumored tensions between the county school board, the council and County Executive Wayne Curry.
“Is there any way you can work out those differences?” asked Goldstein, who pointed out that neither Curry nor any members of the county council were in the Prince George’s entourage.
“If you do, I think you can accomplish your goals and get your money,” he added.
Clark later denied that there was strife between the school board and county government, saying that the parties had agreed on the amount of money they were seeking and on how it should be spent.
Curry’s office did not respond to repeated telephone calls.
County council member M.H. “Jim” Estepp acknowledged that the county does not have unlimited funds to match the state contributions. But he agreed with Clark that the school system and the government were working together.
“In terms of the funding level, the council has supported that,” he said.