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(Col Flier 9/30) School system loosens its belt in new budget

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  • Diana Talabac
    From Col Flier, 9/30, front & page 25 [typed in] School System Loosens Its Belt in New Budget: High School Enrollment to Swell by One-Third by Jennifer Vick A
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 1999
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      From Col Flier, 9/30, front & page 25 [typed in]

      School System Loosens Its Belt in New Budget:
      High School Enrollment to Swell by One-Third

      by Jennifer Vick

      A projected 31% increase in the county's high school population over the
      next 5 years accounts for much of Superintendent Mike Hickey's last capital
      budget before his retirement from the HCPSS next year.

      Hickey last week proposed a $51 million capital budget -- the bulk of it
      for a new Fulton-area high school -- and a 5-year capital improvement plan
      restoring an elementary school in the northeast previously removed from
      capital plans.

      The new HS is expected to cost $34 million, but only $21 million is set
      aside for the project in next year's budget. The school could be built
      adjacent to Fulton ES and Lime Kiln MS.

      Sydney Cousin, Associate Superintendent of Finance and Operations,
      acknowledged the cost of the proposed school is high, noting the last 2 HSs
      constructed in the county -- River Hill, which opened in 1994, and Long
      Reach, which opened in 1996 -- cost between $22 million and $25 million.

      But school construction now costs early $117/sq ft, he said, 11% more than
      last year.

      "It's no change in the scope of the project, it's simply a change in what
      it costs to build things these days," Cousin said.

      Also in the fiscal 2001 capital budget are numerous additions to schools,
      $7 million for the new Alternative Learning Center to replace the current
      Gateway School and $872,000 for equipment for the new Ellicott Mills MS,
      which will open in 2001. The old building is to be demolished next month.

      Hickey has budgeted $8 million for upgrades to the electrical, lighting,
      and cooling and heating systems in older schools, and $900,000 to replace
      portable classrooms.

      The newly restored northeast ES would open in 2003. The school board
      removed the project from the fiscal 1998 budget after encountering pressure
      from then-County Executive Chuck Ecker to cut its budget.

      Officials have not yet picked a site, Cousin said.

      Parents in the NE part of the county have lobbied for the project's
      restoration all year at BOE hearings. Columbia resident Barry Budish has
      been one of them.

      While Budish, the PTA President at Waterloo ES, is glad to see the school
      back in the capital plan, he believes it will only make a dent in crowding
      and may not come soon enough.

      "It's wonderful they can get it done in 2003, but why not get it done in
      2002?" he said. "We need relief now."

      Budish said he'd also like to see a proposal for either a second ES in the
      NE or additions for Rockburn, Waterloo, and Deep Run ESs.

      County Council member Chris Merdon, who represents Ellicott City, also
      believes the NE ES should be included in the fiscal 2001 budget. The funds
      to get it built a year earlier may not be available, but the school board
      should add it to the budget so council members can at least consider it,
      Merdon said.

      "We have a capacity crisis in the NE," he said.

      Also in the capital improvement plan is a new MS to open adjacent to
      Triadelphia Ridge ES in 2004 and additions to Gorman Crossing, Lisbon,
      Bushy Park and Waverly ESs and Patapsco MS.

      In next year's budget, the schools slated for additions are Atholton HS and
      Pointers Run, Forest Ridge, Hollifield Station and Clarksville ESs.

      A primary reason for so many additions, school officials say, is the
      class-size reduction initiative introduced in all ESs this year, which
      added at least one extra teacher in 1st grade. School officials want to
      expand the initiative next year. Overall, the initiative could result in
      having to find space for 2256 students.

      "I'm very ecstatic the BOE reacted to our testimony," said Hollifield
      Station ES PTA President Cindy Ardinger, who spoke at a public hearing on
      the budget in July on crowding at the school.

      Although Hollifield Station has been open only 2 years, the student
      population has grown by almost 100. The school's 2nd grade, for example,
      has 7 classes housed in 4 classrooms, a project room, a room designated for
      G/T students, and a portable classroom, Principal Glenn Heisey said.

      The BOE is scheduled to vote on the capital budget OCT 14.

      (A public hearing on the Superintendent's proposed capital budget will be
      held OCT 7 at 7:30 pm at the DOE, 10910 Rt 108, EC. For info on testifying,
      call Public Information at 410-313-6682.)

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