Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced today that he has ordered state school construction funding formulas changed to make it easier for communities to renovate or rebuild existing schools and invest in established neighborhoods.
The move is likely to be a boon to Montgomery County, which anticipates spending most of its school construction money in the coming years on replacing classrooms rather than building new ones. Prince George's County, too, has embarked on plans to modernize schools in communities around the Capital Beltway as it moves away from the extensive busing once required under a desegregation order.
Glendening (D) announced the policy shift at a Maryland Association of Counties conference here. He said he wanted to adjust the formula so that state construction aid--which could reach $1 billion during his second term--can be used to help curb suburban sprawl. The change does not require legislative approval.
The new policy will "ensure that our older communities have schools that are state-of-the-art. We will be able to assure young families who live in established neighborhoods that their children will have access to the best possible education," Glendening told county leaders. "We will be able to tell them that they will not need to go 'out there' somewhere to find the best schools."
Glendening has traditionally used his Maryland Association of Counties speech to county leaders each summer for a major policy address. With a solid reelection victory last November, Glendening has embarked on an ambitious second term, with big plans made possible because the state is flush with cash from a booming economy and its soon-to-arrive share of the national tobacco settlement.
The governor used today's 40-minute speech to reiterate his desire to spend $1 billion of Maryland's tobacco settlement over the next 10 years to make the state the leader in cancer research. He already has committed money to researchers at John Hopkins University and the University of Maryland and vowed today to resist any effort to divert the money to other projects, as some states have done.
Glendening also said he would seek safe-gun legislation next year that eventually would require each handgun sold in the state to have technology that prohibits anyone but the owner from being able to fire it. Glendening sharpened his criticism of gun manufacturers today, saying that in the wake of several school shootings nationally, it is time to tell them, "Stop killing our children."
Aides to Glendening said they did not know whether the changes he ordered to the school construction formula would require a boost in spending. If so, he probably would resist attempts to shift funding from other planned projects, they said. The governor previously vowed to spend $1 billion during his second term for school construction, up from $635 million during his first term.
The current formula governing how the state spends school construction money dates to the 1970s. The new policy would allow money for site preparation when rebuilding old schools. The state had previously allocated no money for site preparation.
Another important change is that in the current formula, the state figures only 85 percent of the cost of renovating a school that is more than 40 years old. Glendening will change that so that the total cost is part of the calculation for older schools, and will increase the percentage in the formula for schools younger than 40 years old.
Also, the state will begin calculating the cost of such built-in items as library shelving and science lab cabinets. That alone could increase the state's share of school funds by $75,000 to $150,000.
"The current policy essentially encourages new construction, while discouraging investments in modernizing and renovating schools in existing communities. [Montgomery County Executive] Doug Duncan and I experienced this firsthand as we struggled to reuse school sites in Silver Spring," Glendening said. "To correct this, we will put renovation and modernization on an even playing field with new construction."
Duncan (D) had left the convention before the governor's speech to accompany his son to college. His chief Annapolis lobbyist, Ben Bialek, said the changes have been long sought by Montgomery, which plans extensive reconstruction.
"It's something we've been pushing for years," Bialek said.
The governor asked county leaders to support him when he seeks the safe-gun legislation next year. He has not yet decided how fast he wants to impose the requirements.
"Do not listen to the gun manufacturers who say this cannot be done," Glendening said. "The technology is being developed to make childproof handguns that are reliable and affordable. Just like air bags and childproof aspirin bottles, the industry will not do what is right until we make them do what is right."