Prince George’s school officials have urged state leaders to approve legislation that would provide additional money each year for school construction, helping to more quickly address the $2.3 billion backlog of school maintenance needs in the county.
“At the rate that we’re going right now, it will never be reduced to a manageable rate. There is so much facility need in our county, and our district, like other districts, has not been able to keep up. This gives us the best opportunity to accelerate the replacement, renovation, modernization of our facilities,” county schools CEO Kevin Maxwell told the House Appropriations Committee on March 6.
Maxwell, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and others testified on behalf of House Bill 1323, which would provide up to $20 million annually in additional state funding to counties with student populations of more than 100,000 and maintaining a AAA credit rating. Currently, only Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore counties have populations meeting the requirement.
The funds could be used toward school construction projects or the costs of debt service on construction bonds.
The funds would come from state gambling proceeds, and every state dollar would have to be matched by two dollars of county funding.
Last year, a similar proposal, with dollar-for-dollar city-state funding, was passed for Baltimore City Public Schools.
Several committee members asked why the “big three” counties should be singled out.
Del. John L. Bohanan Jr. (D-Dist. 29B) of California said the schools in his district have similar needs, “but we don’t have the muscle you do.”
Del. Mary-Dulany James (D-Dist. 34A) of Havre de Grace said it was unfair that her counties, Cecil and Harford, are too small to be covered by this bill, as they have aging school buildings as well.
“A student is a student is a student, regardless of county,” James said.
Baker said Prince George’s is growing in terms of economic development, but its school infrastructure has not been able to keep pace.
“It’s a two-to-one match. We’re going to put in some money that we frankly cannot afford because we need to do this,” he said.
Baker said investing money in schools now will save money in the long run.
“If we don’t do something immediately, we’re behind the eight ball, and we’ll be paying for this for years to come,” Baker said.
Maxwell said doing construction sooner will also help in energy savings.
“All these schools are going to be LEED certified,” Maxwell said, referring to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a federal program that certifies buildings as environmentally sound. “So if you can move a couple schools, or even 10 or 20 schools, up by 10 years, that’s 10 years of energy savings.”
The county received $35.3 million for fiscal 2014 from the state for capital improvements, less than half the $94.6 million requested.
For fiscal 2015, the school system is requesting $118.1 million in state funding for capital improvements, due to the need to improve and replace aging school facilities, Maxwell said during the budget process.
Approximately one-third of the money for capital improvements comes from the state; the remaining two-thirds is allocated by the county.
The appropriations committee will send the bill back to the House of Delegates with either a favorable or unfavorable recommendation for a second reading and possible vote; no date has yet been set for the decision.