ANNAPOLIS, JULY 29 -- Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced the formation of a task force today that will recommend ways to reduce the state's financial obligation to build schools and place more of the responsibility on local jurisdictions.
The state is facing an estimated tab of nearly $1 billion for school construction and renovation over the next five years, and Schaefer has told local officials -- particularly those from wealthier counties such as Montgomery -- that they must be prepared to assume a greater share of the burden.
Schaefer said today that mental hospitals, universities and other state institutions have been neglected because so much of the money available in the past two decades has gone toward school construction.
The task force, which is to bring its recommendations to the Board of Public Works by early fall, should take into account the needs of particular local jurisdictions, said Schaefer, including "the tax-assessable base of less-wealthy counties."
The 18-member task force, headed by former Baltimore County executive Donald Hutchinson, is charged with finding ways to equitably balance the distribution of money to poorer jurisdictions that are strapped for funds, and to the more affluent areas that are growing rapidly and need more school buildings.
Among the fast-growing counties expected to have to pick up a larger portion of school construction costs are Howard, Anne Arundel and Montgomery, which plans to build seven schools next year.
Under the current formula the state is to pay the full cost for school construction and renovation, and localities pay for building maintenance and land acquisition.
However, even though the state has contributed $2.2 billion to school construction in the past 17 years, it has not been able to fully meet its obligation to localities on construction costs.
This year, localities requested $160 million, but the state allocated only $53 million for school construction.
Montgomery County, for example, is seeking reimbursement for schools it has already built.
This year, the county asked for $64 million in school construction funds but was allotted $10 million.
Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), a member of the task force, said the key to developing a new formula is to make it realistic.
"If you're not going to get 100 percent of the funding, if you know you're only going to get 50 percent funding, then go ahead with 50 percent funding," he said.
"If you want a school, you're going to have to come up with the money yourself," said Levitan, adding that too often localities wait in vain for the state to come through with funds before building schools.
Montgomery, he said, could fare well under a new formula because it could demonstrate a need for new schools. But, Levitan noted, if a formula is based solely on county wealth, "Montgomery is going to get the short end of the stick."