- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Two Maryland officials say the state is giving too much construction money to Baltimore to help its mismanaged and dilapidated schools at the expense of growing and well-managed districts in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

“We reward those that come in crying poor me,” said Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat. “I think you should try to find more money for the schools that deserve the money.”

The Montgomery County Public Schools system is really shortchanged, considering it is financially sound and among the fastest growing in the state, say Mr. Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, two of three Board of Public Works members. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, is the third member.

“I don’t want to take any money from good projects, but this is not right,” Mrs. Kopp, a Democrat, said during a May 5 public works meeting in which members awarded the roughly $50 million remaining in the $125 million school-construction budget for the year.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat, agreed that growing counties should get the most money, but went a step further by faulting Mr. Ehrlich.

“We cannot expect our children to reach their full potential unless we provide them withappropriate resources — quality teachers, smaller class sizes and more classrooms within which to receive their instruction,” Mr. Duncan said. “Montgomery County was eligible for more than $60 million in state school construction aid this year. Due to the paltry funding recommendation in the governor’s budget, we received less than $10 million.”

David G. Lever, executive director of the Maryland Public School Construction Program, said the Baltimore district is receiving an additional $4.8 million because a recent financial report indicated that 11 of its schools needed immediate structural improvements to abate “hazardous conditions.”

He also said that the Baltimore schools had problems such as structural cracks, leaking roofs, and doors and windows that would not close properly and had to be fixed before they could meet minimum requirements set by the Thornton education act and two state studies.

The court-mandated act provides $1.3 billion to help bridge the education gap between richer and poorer school districts.

The studies were to ensure that schools had adequate room for such improvements as full-day kindergarten for every child and prekindergarten for children from disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“In some jurisdictions, the only way to meet this mandate is to build additional space,” Mr. Lever said. “This year there was a large number of requests for kindergarten and prekindergarten projects — 29 of these requests were approved for planning and 14 were approved for funding. That is the major impact that Thornton has had on the capital improvement request this year.”

He said most of the remaining money in the construction budget, $4.8 million, went to the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Baltimore city was second this year in school-construction aid, behind Baltimore County, which will receive $11. 6 million. Prince George’s County will receive $10.2 million and Montgomery County will get $9 million.

Joseph J. Lavorgna, director of planning and capital programming for Montgomery County schools, said the system is not fair.

“I don’t think systems should be punished for maintaining their schools,” he said.

Bill M. Wise, assistant superintendent of facility management for Anne Arundel County schools, said the county had asked for $20 million but received $7.3 million through the appeals process.

However, he declined to say whether he thought the system was equitable.

“I cannot make a judgment about any other school system,” Mr. Wise said.

Still, Mr. Lever said there are no plans to reward schools that maintain their buildings.

“The fact is the vast majority of schools across the state are very well maintained, so it is not a matter of rewarding one school system over the other,” he said. “We are also working with [Baltimore schools] very hard, and have been for some time, to develop preventive maintenance programs that will prevent anything like this from occurring in the future.”

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