Howard County School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin is expected to present school board members tonight with a capital budget request for fiscal 2007 of $95.6 million, driven largely by a spike in construction and fuel costs.
Maryland's formula for calculating construction costs resulted in a 21 percent jump, adding $14.8 million to the district's budget, Cousin said Tuesday. He cautioned that the figure could rise even more because the state formula was devised before Hurricane Katrina sent the price of gas and materials skyrocketing.
"We know it's going to have an impact," Cousin said. "We just don't know what that impact is going to be."
The capital budget, which pays for new facilities and maintenance, includes two big-ticket items: $15.3 million for a new elementary school in the northeast and $20.1 million to replace Bushy Park Elementary.
According to budget documents, school officials initially had expected to spend $10 million for the new northeast school and $15.3 million for Bushy Park.
Officials are also hoping that an addition to Glenelg High will be finished by August 2007, despite continued delays in approval for the school's septic system. The auditorium is expected to be open in 2008. Also, nearly $2 million is earmarked to plan renovations at Mount Hebron High School, which are scheduled to be completed in August 2009.
Centennial Lane and Running Brook elementary schools are set to receive money to plan additions and renovations, which are scheduled for completion in 2008.
About $8.7 million is earmarked for the next phase of kindergarten construction. Though all students will be required to attend full-day kindergarten by the 2007-08 school year, school officials said they won't be finished building classrooms for them until 2009. In the meantime, schools would use portable classrooms.
Officials also hope to spend almost $9 million to renovate and expand the old Cedar Lane School for use by the community and as school system offices. The new Cedar Lane facility, which serves severely disabled students, opened this year next to Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton.
For the first time, school officials this year have developed the capital budget in conjunction with school redistricting plans to help improve long-range forecasts. David Drown, the district's head of geographic systems, said the school system expects to enroll 407 new students by fall 2006, bringing the total population to 48,360. Nearly 1,900 new students are expected to enroll by 2016.
Those numbers, however, represent much slower growth than the district saw during the 1990s, when enrollment jumped by more than 1,000 students every year. Drown said that linking redistricting and capital budgeting is improving officials' response to such fluctuations. For example, he said, additions at Gorman Crossing Elementary and Glenwood Middle schools are no longer planned because the crowding at those schools will be solved by redistricting.
"The predictability . . . hasn't changed," Drown said. "But our reaction to what the future holds is much more focused."
Maurice Kalin, the former associate schools chief who retired in 2001 but has helped implement the new budget process, said Cousin had to weigh long-range needs against higher costs.
"That balancing act is extremely difficult," he said.
Cousin expressed concern that the county had not identified a dedicated funding source for school construction.
County Executive James N. Robey (D) has failed twice to persuade the county's delegation to the General Assembly to approve a half-percentage point increase in the real estate transfer tax, to 1.5 percent. Instead, the delegation approved an excise tax on new homes that allowed the county to borrow about $58 million, which has been spent.
Last fiscal year, the state gave Howard an unexpected $15 million in construction money, one of the largest amounts the district has ever received. But such largesse is not likely to be repeated.
After public hearings, the five-member school board is scheduled to give final approval to the capital budget in May. The redistricting plans will come before the board in November.