Officials Predict Elementary School Projects Will Need More Money

Plans to renovate three of Anne Arundel County’s most dilapidated elementary schools are still on track in County Executive Steve Schuh’s proposed budget for FY 2018 — but the county’s auditor cautioned Tuesday that more money will have to be added to the projects down the road.

In her annual comments on the proposed budget, Auditor Jodee Dickinson told council members the county will have to find an additional $13 million for revitalization projects at Tyler Heights, Edgewater, and Richard Henry Lee Elementary Schools to meet anticipated costs.

The Capital Gazette reports,

The projected shortfall is the result of timing, school and county officials said.

The Board of Education submitted its construction budget to the state last fall, before board members decided to renovate the three elementary schools instead of constructing entirely new buildings, according to Alex Szachnowicz, chief operating officer for Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

When Schuh’s administration crafted its budget proposal months later, staff did not have board estimates for revitalization costs and so based suggested funding levels on their own projections. Board of Education construction officials have since weighed in, advising the auditor that the projects will be more expensive.

Despite the disconnect, Szachnowicz said money to pay for planning for all three projects in FY18 is intact and enough to keep the projects on track. The county could wait to increase funding for the schools in future budget years, he said.

“The adjustments are going to have to be made,” Szachnowicz said. “I think the question is, when does this body and this administration think they have to be made — sooner or later?”

Dickinson noted that the county won’t have much wiggle room for borrowing money in FY19, which is already scheduled for several large capital projects. If officials can’t come up with enough money for the school projects, future budget shortfalls could mean delays, she said.

Under the current plan, all three elementary schools would open during the 2020-2021 school year.

“Fiscal year 2019 is a very, very heavy bond year in our program,” Dickinson said. Waiting for future budget years to make up the entire projected funding gap “would make (fiscal year) 2019 unaffordable, I think.”

Dickinson’s other recommendations include:

•Reducing the Board of Election’s budget by $227,000. Dickinson also cautioned that the county should try to recover $157,000 in extra money appropriated to support this year’s elections in Annapolis. “County residents outside of Annapolis should not pay for city expenses,” she said.

•Cutting $2.7 million in bonds and $4.9 million in grant money scheduled for fiscal 2019 for a proposed tennis center in Millersville. Dickinson said the county has not been offered assurances that the Tennis Alliance of Anne Arundel County, a group of tennis enthusiasts that has pledged to raise money for the center, will be able to provide enough money for the project. Hammond said the administration has faith in the group and does not plan on spending any more than the amount proposed. If the alliance does not raise the amount it has pledged, he said, the scope of the project will be reduced.