New School Facilities Commission To Tackle Needs, Costs, Policies

The General Assembly leadership has established a 21st Century School Commission, to target the school construction critical needs and cost overrun issues that have taken center stage in Maryland’s political debate.

From the presiding officers’ press release:

SENATE PRESIDENT AND HOUSE SPEAKER ANNOUNCE FORMATION OF 21ST CENTURY SCHOOL FACILITIES COMMISSION

Private sector-led group will make recommendations for innovative school construction techniques,
a decade after the Kopp Commission report

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Today, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch announced the formation of a commission to review the State’s school construction policies and make recommendations for more efficient and effective school construction practices into the future. The 21st Century School Commission will be chaired by Martin Knott, President of Knott Mechanical, a mechanical services company working in 10 counties across Maryland.

“This is the innovation economy and it is time to maximize our investment in school facilities in ways that are innovative and forward thinking and done in full partnership with educators, boards of education and local governments,” said President Miller.

The last time the State undertook a wholesale review of its school construction policies was in 2004. The Task Force to Study Public School Facilities, commonly referred to as the Kopp Commission, found that the total cost to bring schools up to the “minimum standards” was $3.85 billion dollars, including $2 billion in State funds.

Since then, the General Assembly and several gubernatorial administrations have exceeded that goal, by investing $3.7 billion in State school construction across Maryland. However, the cost to construct an average elementary school has more than doubled since 2003.

“After $2 billion in funding over the past decade, now is the time to look at how we maximize ongoing State investment so that every child has a safe and modern school facility,” said Speaker Busch. “Using best practices from the construction management industry that have improved over the past decade, we can better stretch limited State dollars.”

The Commission will be comprised of private sector representatives from the construction services and development industry; local government and educational members; as well as State officials.

The Commission will be charged with:
• Reviewing existing educational specifications for school construction projects and determining whether the existing specifications are appropriate for the needs of 21st century schools
• Identifying best practices from the construction industry to determine whether there are efficiencies that can be made in the construction of public schools and charter schools
• Identifying a long-term plan for jurisdictions with growing enrollment, as well as maintaining facilities in jurisdictions with flat and declining enrollment
• Identifying areas where innovative financing mechanisms including public-private partnerships, as well as alternatives to traditional general obligation debt can be used for construction and ongoing maintenance
• Determining areas for efficiencies and cost-saving measures for construction and maintenance
• Evaluating the appropriate role for State agencies including the Maryland Department of Planning, Department of General Services, Board of Public Works, as well as the appropriate statutory structure for the Interagency Committee for Public School Construction
• Reviewing the relationship between State agencies and local governments on school construction projects
• Reviewing the Kopp Commission findings and progress toward implementation

The Commission members will be named in early January and begin meeting immediately, reporting back by December 2016.

MACo adopted school construction as one of its top legislative initiatives for the 2016 session:

Strong and Smart State Funding for School Construction

The State’s commitment to school construction funding needs to remain strong and smart – to best serve the modern needs of our schoolchildren, educators, and communities. State funding needs to recognize modern cost factors as we achieve new environmental and energy standards, satisfy heightened needs for technology, ensure student safety, fulfill community resource needs, and mesh with evolving teaching methods. County governments share responsibility for financing K-12 school construction with the State, whose funding depends on statutory formulas and regulations. MACo advocates reviewing and updating the State’s school funding formulas and guidelines to promote the smartest and most effective funding for modern schools, and urges State policymakers to retain the State’s strong commitment to this top funding priority.

Read more coverage from the Capital Gazette.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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