Hearing on school-construction funding highlights desperate state of some schools

@Bryan Renbaum

County and city leaders highlighted the desperate state of some of the schools in their communities to a panel of Maryland lawmakers on Thursday.

Their testimony was in support of legislation that would provide more than $2 billion over the next five to ten years for school construction and renovation throughout the state.

“The need for school construction funding in our county is great. We have a construction renovation backlog of $8.5 billion,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks told the House Appropriations Committee.

Alsobrooks said the county’s schools are the “second oldest in the school system.” She said the average age of a school in the county is 41 years old.

Alsobrooks referenced a meeting she attended with state officials that took place in November at Forest Heights Elementary School. She said the location of the meeting was meant to highlight the 90-year-old school’s desperate need for funds.

“We choose that location because something was missing there. And it was our students and teachers-who could not be in that school building on that day because it was deemed unsafe for them to do so.”

Alsobrooks said the students and teachers were moved to a different school. She went on to describe the renovation in graphic detail.

“Because of the emergency renovations that were underway, half the building was being held up by large hydraulic jacks. This is unbefitting of children in our school system.”

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said some city schools lack basic utilities such as heat and air conditioning.

“Baltimore City has the oldest inventory of school buildings in the state of Maryland. Some schools lack heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer. Others do not have power or water because they are old enough to have been constructed with lead water pipes.”

Young said the legislation would provide a big boost for city schools.

“We believe that the additional money provided by HB1 would allow us to keep our promise and ensure that our students have the healthy modern school facilities they need and that they deserve.”

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said that even though his community is one of the wealthiest in the nation, the school system still needs more money.

“Despite our perceived affluence in Howard County there is a significant need for increased capital investment for our schools. We are in dire need of extensive renovations for our older schools and the construction of new ones to keep pace with our student enrollment. Even in Howard County we have over half-a-billion dollars in deferred maintenance alone.”

Ball said he anticipates the county will need more than $145 million from the state over the next five years “just to keep pace” with “critical projects.”

The legislation, HB0001-Built to Learn Act, would, according to its text: “authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $2.2 billion in revenue bonds, backed by annual payments from the Education Trust Fund beginning in fiscal 2022 that phase up to $125 million annually by fiscal 2024.”

Gov. Larry Hogan said in statement on Thursday that he supports the legislation.

“Last year, we introduced record funding for school construction legislation, but the legislature failed to support it. We are pleased that they now seem to agree with us on the need to provide local school systems, and most importantly our students, with the healthy, efficient, heated, air conditioned modern school buildings that they deserve. We look forward to working with the legislature to get this historic investment in our schools passed.”

Hogan’s FY 2021 budget provides $733 million for school construction. It provides $7.3 billion for K-12 education and more than $350 million to fund the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission.