ANNAPOLIS – Glendening administration officials Tuesday unveiled a $1.049 billion capital budget for fiscal 2000 that includes $250 million for school construction, the largest amount in 25 years.
That is still not enough for all the school construction in the state, and school officials from around the state are expected to line up Wednesday to ask the Board of Public Works for more money for school buildings.
An administration official conceded that the $250 million will not meet demand from local school systems, but they said it “will certainly address a far larger number of projects (than) we have been able to do before.
“This is the highest amount put in the school construction budget in 25 years,” said Deputy Budget Secretary Eloise Foster. “Counties will be able to get monies for new schools and … more money means they will be able to modernize, renovate and construct those schools than they have been able to do in the past.”
Montgomery County officials said they were pleased with the school funding process so far, even though they think it will fall far short of the county’s needs.
Ben Bialek, a lobbyist for Montgomery County, said the Inter-Agency Committee on School Construction has recommended $31.7 million in school construction funds for the county. But Bialek said the county is eligible for $57 million and that he expects Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and county supporters to appeal to the Board of Public Works for that money Wednesday.
“The great news is that the governor has included $250 million statewide for school construction, which means that it’s likely that our school construction needs will be met by the Board of Public Works,” Bialek said.
Delegate Carol S. Petzold, D-Montgomery and the vice chairwoman of the county’s House delegation, echoed the county’s need.
“We are a rapidly growing school population. We may be rich in many respects, but we also have a very large number of students on free and reduced lunch — and that’s not rich,” Petzold said.
There are also large numbers of county students in English as Second Language classes, she said, meaning they are likely immigrants or children of immigrants.
“It is the growth of students in general and poor students as well that is a determining factor in our need for school construction money,” Petzold said.
House Minority Leader Bob Kittleman, R- Howard, called the school construction portion of the capital budget a “tiny bit high,” but he said he cannot really argue with it because it will be a one-time expense.
Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, R-Howard, agreed and said Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s priority on education is shared and supported by the Senate Republican Caucus.
“What we question is if counties will be awarded (construction money) in a fair manner throughout the state,” said Madden. “We want to make sure these dollars are distributed in a fair and predictable manner and not be used to reward one jurisdiction over another based on election results.”
Other areas slated for funding in the capital budget include $342.9 million for environmental projects; $104.4 million for business and job creation; and $68 million for the administration’s Safe Communities, among other projects.