What’s Happening With School Construction?

Over the past month, there have been several announcements with regard to the State’s funding and review of school construction projects. Here is a brief update on the subject.

New Timetable for School Construction Requests

The Board of Public Works will now begin meeting with local school system representatives in October, rather than in January.

At the August 16 meeting of the Board of Public Works, the Governor stated a new plan for school construction requests in an exchange with Bob Gorrell, Executive Director of Public School Construction. The Board, he said, would hear school construction requests from local school systems in October 18, rather than in January.

From the Board of Public Works meeting transcript:

GOVERNOR HOGAN: . . . Currently the IAC [Interagency Committee on School Construction], which is an agent of the Board of Public Works, receives capital funding requests from the local school systems in early October. And our administration submits its preliminary school construction budget on November 1st. However, the Board of Public Works, which has the final authority on the State school construction funding, doesn’t even see the requests until January, which is after the fact. And that makes no sense whatsoever. It’s unacceptable that the chief fiscal officers of the State who are charged with this authority and responsibility do not have any opportunity to evaluate school construction requests prior to the submission of the school construction preliminary budget. So in order for this Board to properly exercise its fiscal oversight authority and responsibility, local school systems will need to present their capital budget requests to this Board of Public Works for evaluation well before January. So therefore, I’m directing you [Gorrell] to work together with Secretary McDonald to notify the local school systems that instead of the second Board meeting in January of next year that the school systems will instead need to appear before this Board of Public Works on October 18th of this year to present and discuss their capital requests with us. And that way we can better evaluate and analyze those requests prior to the submission of our preliminary school construction budget.”

The Governor also welcomed participation from state and county officials on October 18th, following the Comptroller statement that “Years ago we used to have the State Senators, State Delegates, County Executives, the elected officials who represent these jurisdictions, who often added very important information to the requests.”

When asked, Executive Director Gorrell stated that the early input would be beneficial to the school construction process. He stated, “We’ll work with the LEAs so that they can [sic] structure themselves to take this as an opportunity to get your feedback as they are putting together their proposals that they’ll bring back later for your approval.”

Executive Director Gorrell has worked with the local school systems to develop a standard template that will provide comparative information and a list of the projects the local school system intends to submit for the October meeting presentations. The templates will be submitted at the start of the month.

Changes to the State’s Funding for School Construction

Recommendations to alter the State’s contribution for fiscal years 2019-2021 were withdrawn from the Board of Public Works August Meeting Agenda; the IAC may revisit the topic on September 13th.

In mid-August, the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) recommended revised state cost share percentages to the Board of Public Works. This recommendation is part of a regular process of updates to the state contribution for school construction.

The Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) requires that the state cost share percentages be revised each three years and the most recent deadline was October 2016. COMAR provides the formula the IAC must follow to provide revised percentages for the current cycle (fiscal years 2019-2021) and replace those that are now expired.

As described by the Interagency Committee on School Construction, the IAC had intended for the updated percentages to be confirmed and distributed to local school systems by November 6, 2017. However, the recommendation was withdrawn from the Board of Public Works August 16 meeting agenda and was not included on the September 6 Board Meeting Agenda. According to Executive Director Gorrell, the IAC will consider revisions to the recommendations at its September 13 meeting.

The current draft recommendation would have increased state contributions on a percentage basis to six school systems and decreased the state contribution to nine school systems throughout Maryland.

The draft recommendations would have increased the State contribution for school construction for the following jurisdictions:

  1. Allegany County
  2. Baltimore County
  3. Cecil County
  4. Prince George’s County

The draft recommendations would have decreased the State contribution for school construction for the following jurisdictions:

  1. Baltimore City
  2. Carroll County
  3. Dorchester County
  4. Frederick County
  5. Harford County
  6. Howard County
  7. St. Mary’s County
  8. Somerset County
  9. Wicomico County

After the Board considers the percentages, the amended regulation then goes through the regulatory process, including a comment period.

For more background, see Conduit Street’s 9 Counties Could See a Decrease in State’s School Construction Funding Share in 2019.

The 21st Century School Facilities Commission Continues Work

The Commission has divided into two work groups focused on funding and school design, with the promise of producing final recommendations in time for the 2018 General Assembly.

The 21st Century School Facilities Commission was originally set to complete its work last fall, but then extended its end date through December 2017. According to its fall work schedule, the Commission is splitting into two subcommittees. One will focus on issues relating to school construction funding and the other will consider recommendations to reform school construction processes and building requirements for school facilities.

The subcommittees will hold multiple work sessions and then report back to the full Commission in mid-November, with the Commission holding its decision meeting in mid-December. This timing sets up the opportunity for the Commission to forward its recommendations to the Kirwan Commission on education and for any final recommendations to form the basis for legislation in the 2018 General Assembly Session.

County representatives on the 21st Century School Facilities Commission include Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner and Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin. As part of their work on the Commission, both representatives have submitted testimony and detailed input to the Commission regarding school construction cost and process concerns from the county government perspective. In addition, County Executive Gardner has provided information and recommendations from Frederick County’s local work group on school construction to the Commission.

For more information, see the Knott Commission 2017 interim workplan.

MACo continues to track school construction issues of importance to county governments. Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more coverage, or contact Robin Eilenberg at MACo with any additional questions.