By Brian Marron and Anjali Shastry
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS — At his first Board of Public Works meeting, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan found an ally in Comptroller Peter Franchot, who supported the governor’s increased focus on school maintenance over replacement, and reforming the state’s contract-award process.
Seventeen school districts and the Maryland School for the Blind presented funding requests to repair or rebuild existing schools.
Hogan said he is disgruntled by efforts to rebuild schools entirely, saying that maintenance should keep buildings functioning and they should not have to “build a new school every 15 or 20 years.”
Franchot also blasted some jurisdictions for their “icy indifference” toward school maintenance, which can leave buildings too rundown to use.
Among the requests were Baltimore County asking for funding to do basic upkeep on schools, such as providing heating and air conditioning; Cecil County requesting funding regarding water leakage in an elementary school; and Charles County asking for a new elementary school due to overcrowding in existing schools.
Based on recommendations by the Public Schools Construction Program and the Interagency Committee on School Construction, school districts in Maryland request money from the Board of Public Works to fulfill funding gaps for school construction projects, from building a new school altogether to renovating existing ones.
Typically 200 to 300 projects receive approval each year, according Executive Director of Public School Construction David Lever, who said Wednesday he was satisfied with Hogan’s position on public school construction. The recommended projects will go through two more rounds of recommendations before the final state budget is completed, Lever said.
The school construction committee made a recommendation to the Board of Public Works for projects that would total $187.5. million — 75 percent of former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s preliminary figure of $250 million in funding for public school construction for fiscal year 2016, Lever said.
“He seems to be extremely supportive so far and it is reflected in the budget that he’s submitted,” Lever said.
Hogan’s proposed 2016 fiscal year budget sets aside $290.7 million for K-12 school construction projects.
Hogan and Franchot also jointly argued against a state culture that employs an “emergency” procurement process.
In the past, Franchot has criticized the procurement process for lack of competitive bids and for retroactive “emergency” payments. At his swearing in on Monday, Franchot called the system “broken.”
In the retroactive approval process, the Board of Public Works, as a formality, has to approve any contracts for work a locality has deemed an emergency and solicited without the board’s approval, said Roy McGrath, the governor’s liaison to the Board of Public Works.
Hogan backed up Franchot’s frustration and abstained on a vote regarding a $40,000 retroactive contract from the state’s Department of Human Resources, which hired a PR firm to do a study about how Maryland should respond to an influx of unaccompanied minors last year.
“This is a small business, so they should get paid,” Hogan said. But he did not believe this was an emergency or a good use of the retroactive contract approval process.
“If a pipe bursts and you have to fix it, that’s an emergency,” Hogan said. “Hiring a political firm to come in and give you PR advice is not an emergency.”
Hogan also said that finding a vendor should be a competitive bidding process and asked for clarification on a few funding requests where that might not be the case.
In the morning session, Hogan, Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp gave approval to a treasurer’s office bond sale of up to $1.2 billion, scheduled for March 4.
State bonds go on sale twice a year, in March and July, and the treasurer’s office asked to have the sale of $750 million in refunded bonds and $518 million in new bonds approved by the Board of Public Works. The settlement of the sale, estimated for mid-March, would replenish the bond funds, which will run out around mid-March as well, Nikki Griffith, the deputy director of debt management in the state treasurer’s office, said.
Franchot, miffed that he was not given supplemental information on the sale until the last minute and said he could not review it, begrudgingly followed Kopp’s and Hogan’s lead and approved the March sale date with an approval he called a “cold yes.”
The meeting began and ended on a light note, with Hogan beginning the meeting promptly at 10 a.m. and Franchot noting happily that it had been a long time since a Board of Public Works meeting started on time. Hogan also noted that they finished ahead of schedule, beaming at his efficiency and punctuality.