A work group chaired by the Maryland schools superintendent discusses a proposal for a pilot program to assess public school construction projects in Annapolis on Sept. 25. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
A work group chaired by the Maryland schools superintendent discusses a proposal for a pilot program to assess public school construction projects in Annapolis on Sept. 25. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — A proposal to assess school construction projects in Maryland based on need may be conducted through a $50 million pilot program.

A work group comprised of Maryland state, county and school officials met Wednesday but didn’t determine specific details on the plan, but a draft outlined the pros and cons of implementing the program.

The good: Priority funding would maximize limited state and local resources, promote sufficient facilities for every child and allow taxpayers to monitor and evaluate the program.

The bad: School systems with the greatest needs, such as Baltimore City, could receive the lion’s share of funding.

Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery County) made that point last month with the group and reiterated it Wednesday.

“What is the value of ranking all the schools if you’re only going to solve the top three?” he said. “The pilot program is really going to deal with a small number of problems. You can create some negative situations among all the jurisdictions.”

State Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), also a member of the group, said a statewide assessment fits best, especially when some data already exists.

“It’s going to have the same score, but it’s just cutting the data,” he said. “The data will be available.”

Some of the figures would be based on a colored chart based on categories such as red, which represents number one, as the highest priority with immediate needs such as asbestos, electrical hazards and mold. Green represents number nine would be the lowest ranking for school and other buildings “that are within the expected life cycle and do not require replacement.”

In theory, to implement the proposal in Maryland, Baltimore City could receive top priority for school construction because it has the most aging school buildings in the state. Kent County ranks second and Prince George’s County third, according to the state’s Interagency Commission on School Construction.

Bob Gorrell, executive director of the state’s public school construction program, acknowledged a handful of schools would be rewarded in the pilot’s first year. However, those highest-need schools would drop down on the priority list and all jurisdictions would begin to even out.

“If Montgomery [County] had the top three in the state, [then] that would be a high need that would avoid the cost to the state and local [jurisdiction] if that would occur,” he said. “My assumption would be if those were the three highest schools and they were in the first year, then you pretty much solved a lot of your backlog by those three schools.”

The pilot program wouldn’t count portable classrooms within the square footage of an entire building.

The goal would be to produce a final report Dec. 1 and presented for state lawmakers to review when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 8.

“The most important thing is to get this assessment going,” said state Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a member of the work group.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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