The Frederick County school board has approved a proposed 10-year school construction plan with one caveat: It reflects the difference between what that school system needs and what the county commissioners are planning to fund.
The county Board of Education voted unanimously on Sept. 26 to approve the master facilities plan, which outlines projects for the next decade and includes more than $305.3 million in requested funding. Of that request, $183.4 million would come from the county.
However, as they approved Schools Superintendent Theresa R. Alban’s proposed plan, board members pointed out the differences between the system’s requested projects and those that the Frederick County Board of Commissioners has approved for funding.
“We would like everything funded today,” said board member April Miller, who suggested the change. “But that is not how it works.”
The additional information should help avoid confusion about the purpose of the system’s facilities master plan, Miller said. Although the document maps out the school construction needs, it still is more of a wish list and does not guarantee projects will be completed on the schedule outlined in the plan, Miller said.
For example, although the school system is asking to build another elementary school in the Urbana area in fiscal 2016, that project is not scheduled for construction funding until fiscal 2017 in the county’s approved plan.
And although school officials have Urbana Elementary scheduled for modernization in fiscal 2018, the commissioners have approved funding for the project in fiscal 2019.
The decision to include such information follows criticism from Commissioners’ President Blaine Young (R) that the school system’s master plan was “unrealistic” and “overly aggressive.”
In a letter he submitted as public comment for the school system’s master plan hearing on Sept. 12, Young said that in the current weak economy, the county cannot fund the timeline of construction and renovation projects as outlined in the plan.
Although the county has been aggressive in moving up some school construction projects, such as the replacement of North Frederick and Lincoln elementaries, officials still are waiting on the state to reimburse them for $23 million that the commissioners have forward funded to support school construction, Young said.
And with the county being pressed to provide money for teacher pensions, it will be more difficult to find funding for school construction in the general fund, Young said. School construction money comes from the general fund in the commissioners’ operating budget, impact fees and new school mitigation fees for developers.
School officials acknowledged those concerns at last week’s meeting, but they were not willing to change the plan, which they said must reflect the true needs of the school system.
“We need to share with the public that this is based on need, and we are not looking at are we going to be able to get enough money to do it,” Alban said. “That is what the board of commissioners has to do. That is why the plans don’t always match up.”
School board President Angie Fish agreed.
“This represents the needs of the school system, and we know that it depends on funding,” she said.
The facilities master plan, which includes the school system’s proposed six-year capital improvement program, is the first step in the process school officials go through to line up construction funding.
Looking at enrollment projections, building conditions and capacities, the plan serves as a blueprint for construction.
In 2012-13, the county has 13 elementary, four middle and one high schools operating at or more than 100 percent capacity, according to the master plan. The school system also has 116 portable classrooms at elementary schools, six at middle schools and 16 at high schools. In the next 10 years, the county expects to enroll 5,753 more students.
Now that officials have approved the plan, school officials will use it as the basis in submitting their request for state funding on Friday, school system Facilities Director Ray Barnes said.
The school system will submit its construction funding request to the county in November, Barnes said.