ANNAPOLIS – The prevailing theme at the Maryland Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday was growth: expanding schools, increasing populations, growing children.
With that in mind, a slew of counties requested funding from the board for relief from overcrowding: new school construction and renovations at aging schools.
The board had $69 million to allocate, but demands from the schools totaled $133 million.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, along with Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, make up the board and heard the appeals. Townsend subbed for Gov. Parris Glendening who was with his wife, Frances Hughes Glendening, who suffered a collapsed lung this week.
The board seemed sympathetic to the goals of the school systems and educators.
“An investment in education is an investment in children, which is an investment in our future,” Dixon said.
A passion for correcting overcrowded classrooms brought about a rarity in government: unity. County commissioners stood with school board superintendents and state lawmakers for the same purpose: to get funding for school improvements in their county.
“People are coming here as a unified group. In the past it’s been fragmented,” said State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick. “Every group has education as its highest priority.”
Hundreds of people filed in and out of Governor’s Reception Room, which was only big enough to accommodate presenters from one county at a time.
Many schools asked for money for building maintenance, such as repairing boiler systems, rooftops, windows, and swimming pools. Electrical upgrades for Internet access was another one of the top requested items.
Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Baltimore City presented some of the largest demands, Grasmick said. In fact, Prince George’s $44 million request would eat up more than 60 percent of the available funding.
Since the requests add up to almost double the available funds, some will have to be thrown out or postponed.
“We will do our best to make sure the most critical needs of the counties are met,” said Glendening spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.
The governor, a former University of Maryland professor, has made education a priority, earmarking $167 million of the state’s budget surplus for public school construction.
And this week Glendening set aside $90 million for a 10 percent salary increase for public school teachers over two years. The counties that provided a 4 percent increase each year would get an additional 1 percent from the state.
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