ANNAPOLIS – Funding for school construction in Maryland next fiscal year may be less than school districts are hoping.
Less than half the $342 million requested by Maryland’s 24 public school districts may be funded for fiscal 2003, according to a briefing Tuesday for two House Appropriations subcommittees.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening proposed to allocate at least $150 million for school construction, and had hoped to add another $50 million, but because of the recent economic downturn and the terrorist attacks the figure is unlikely to exceed the allocation.
“They should not expect any more than $150 million,” said Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for Glendening. “The funding levels will not be at the record levels that they have been in previous years.”
Funding has ranged from about $257 million to $300 million in the past three years, said Yale Stenzler, executive director of the public school construction program at the Maryland Department of Education.
In 2002, districts requested $372 million and received about $286.6 million, he said.
The difference between requests and allocations may be greater in the coming year.
Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the economic situation was not favoring an increase, according to a letter Glendening wrote Stenzler on Sept. 6. Glendening said he planned to propose at least $150 million, enough to exceed the eight-year, $1.6 billion commitment he made to school construction.
“This is a prudent and cautious amount and one that I hope to increase when I present my budget to the General Assembly in January,” the letter said. “The ongoing weakness of the national economy, however, demands prudent budget management and that we maintain our cash reserves in order to ensure that the state can fund critical needs that would be caused by a more severe downturn.”
The economy sharply declined after terrorists hijacked airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon Sept. 11.
“The impact (of the terrorist attacks) is obviously significant,” Stenzler said. “We have not received any word from the governor or the Office of Budget Management about reducing the ($150 million). I’m concerned that there will not be an added surplus to that number.”
Glendening has not announced cuts in school construction, Guillory said.
The preliminary figures requested by the districts could fluctuate before final decisions are made about the budget, Stenzler said.
So far, the Montgomery County Public School system is the only district that has taken measures to free money so the economic downturn doesn’t severely delay capital projects, Stenzler said.
The district plans to ask for about $25 million from the state. School officials placed a 90-day moratorium on school construction bids in May and saved more than $2.5 million.
“The moratorium was declared because the higher bids endangered our ability to deliver on our whole school construction program,” said Council President Blair Ewing in a statement Tuesday. “The moratorium was an opportunity for the construction market to cool and for prices to moderate.”
State school administrators do not know if other school districts plan to take actions on their construction budgets, Stenzler said.
“No one is indicating that projects have been dropped,” Stenzler said. “No one has done a moratorium as Montgomery County has done.”