Countywide school construction could be delayed

March 2, 2006, midnight | By Daniel Klein | 18 years, 1 month ago

Budget discrepancies lead to lack of funding

As many as 51 construction projects throughout MCPS could be delayed by up to two years if County Executive Doug Duncan's proposed funding for the construction passes. Duncan's budget for 2007 allotted $1.17 billion for the construction plans, falling $81.6 million short of the Board of Education's request for this year.

Duncan released his Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) at a Jan. 12 press conference while overlooking the future site of Richard Montgomery. His proposal calls for the spending of $2.7 billion over the next six years, which includes a nearly 25 percent increase in school funding from the previous CIP, as well as an increase in funding for Montgomery College, 5,000 additional acres to the county's agricultural preserve and funding for the revitalization of the Long Branch community. The County Council will now vote on his proposal.

Under Duncan's six-year proposal, the bulk of the funding for school construction is concentrated in the last three years, an estimated $121.2 million initially requested to be spent in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 to2010. According to Superintendent Jerry Weast, Duncan's plan will postpone the construction of 10 elementary school gymnasiums by a year. This will also mean the delay of as many as 20 modernization projects throughout the county. Finally, the plan postpones at least 10 construction projects slated to begin this year, as school officials cannot begin the bidding process for these construction projects until they have the funding in hand.

In a Jan. 20 memo written from Weast to the Board, Weast indicated that Duncan recommended using $11.7 million of the 2005 budget surplus to reduce the deficits of fiscal year 2007. "While I am cautiously optimistic, this will require the County Council to identify additional resources or shift funds from other areas to fund our CIP," Weast wrote. Under Duncan's current capital budget proposal, more than half of the funding will come from selling bonds.

According to The Washington Post, David Weaver, spokesman for the County Executive, explained that Duncan proposed to push funding to the last three years of the program based on concerns that the county would not have enough money from the state to fully fund construction in the first few years of the plan.

However the fiscal 2007 operating budget is expected to be $275 million more than the year's spending plan according to council analysts. Steadily growing property values and a strong economy have left Montgomery County with an increasing surplus. In fact, Duncan plans to call for a nine-and-a-half cent cut in the property tax rate when he unveils his operating budget in March. Duncan's office was unavailable to comment on these discrepancies.

These project delays come as Duncan is gearing up for his gubernatorial campaign, and according to a recent poll cited in The Post by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies for Progressive Maryland, a liberal advocacy group, building and repairing schools is the top budget priority of Maryland voters. In response to Duncan's plan, Governor Robert Ehrlich, who is seeking reelection, is pushing for $281 million in state funds to renovate and build schools. Ehrlich decreased funding for school construction in his first two years as governor.

Meanwhile, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley pledged in January that, if elected governor, he would spend at least $250 million a year on school construction. According to The Post, while releasing his construction plan, Duncan announced that he expects to have secured $2.1 billion in local school construction funds by the time he leaves office this year. The County Council has the final say on how much the school system will receive, but it is up to the school board to identify how the money will be spent.

Significant delays under the proposed budget are the two-year delay of renovations at Sherwood and the delay of renovations at Walter Johnson, which began in 1997 and was intended to be phased over 13 years.

Daniel Klein. Daniel Klein is a junior in the Communications Arts Program and excited for a great year on print staff. When not working on a story he enjoys playing for Blair's awe-inspiring, breathtaking and downright cool boys' lacrosse team (and encourages everyone to come see us … More »

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