ANNAPOLIS – Around the State House, it’s dubbed the “beg-a-thon,” and there’s a good reason.
Lawmakers, school board members and parents from every corner of Maryland huddled around a podium on the second floor of the State House for four hours Wednesday for their annual plea before the three-member Board of Public Works to grant them millions of additional dollars for school construction.
The board — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — has given $75 million of the original county requests of more than $378.2 million for capital improvements to public schools.
Counties were competing Wednesday for a piece of the additional $25 million earmarked for school construction.
The same appeal was heard throughout the day: A boom in student enrollment has led to overcrowding in public schools and new construction is needed as soon as possible.
“My God, where are we going to put them all?” was St. Mary’s Democrat Sen. Roy Dyson’s reaction, he said, when he learned of the growth in his county schools.
Montgomery County has 3,000 new students each year, County Executive Douglas Duncan said.
There are 146 portable classrooms in Frederick County, School Board President Linda Naylor said.
Charles County public schools are more than 1,000 students over capacity, said Margaret Young, vice chairman of the county board of education.
The population of Calvert County is 21 percent school-aged children and some schools are at 140 percent of capacity, said Superintendent of Schools J. Kenneth Horsmon.
“We’re cramming a lot of kids into the schools down there,” said David F. Hale, president of the Calvert County Board of Commissioners.
Dyson, who also appeared on behalf of Calvert and Charles counties, pointed out that several counties claimed they were the fastest-growing in the state, which drew laughter from board members.
Most counties asked the board for more money to build new schools or renovate old ones, as most received only small portions of their original capital requests.
Howard County had asked for $52.6 million for projects but got $4.3 million.
Montgomery County, the largest school system in the state, requested $59 million and was allotted about $6 million.
One representative called the meeting an “equal distribution of dissatisfaction.”
Counties did what they could to glean funds.
Ehrlich, Schaefer and Kopp were thanked repeatedly for their contributions to education. Several presenters pointedly reminded the governor of their histories with him — whether it was competing against him in high school football, serving with him in the House of Delegates or working for him while he was a congressman.
“You know our needs; we know your straits,” Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens told the board.
The board has until about the end of the legislative session, April 12, to decide how to allocate the additional $25 million for school construction.