A School Is Not A Road

A statewide workgroup gets inside funding and facility issues that lie beneath the surface. 

Schools, like roads, require significant capital investment by state and local governments. A new workgroup may help bring to light the needs of school facilities so they are as visible as the open road.

At the first meeting of the workgroup on school construction funding and facility assessments, Bob Gorrell, the Director of the Public School Construction Program described the challenges of public understanding of school facilities issues. Relatively few residents will enter a school to see its condition, while almost all residents will experience deteriorating roads and unsafe highways.

The Workgroup on the Assessment and Funding of School Facilities is going deeper. This workgroup is charged with considering how school facility condition as measured by an index should weigh on state school construction funding decisions. One possible outcome may be that when the state’s condition assessment finds that schools in a certain county are especially needy of renovation or development, the State may shift funding to that county from other sources.

A county voice on this workgroup, represented by Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner, will emphasize the need for local determinations of facility needs to drive the state’s funding decisions.

A Holistic Approach to School Construction Funding

The Public School Construction Program’s presentation encouraged the Workgroup to look holistically at the various state school construction funding programs to see if the construction funding is addressing the State’s goals for school construction and school facility needs.

The variety of current programs include those to address:

  • school safety,
  • energy efficiency,
  • school overcrowding,
  • aging schools, and other areas.

The presentation of the Public School Construction program also stated that the continuity of Maryland’s state funding over many years has allowed local school systems to develop comprehensive, multi-year capital improvement plans.

Maryland’s School Buildings Are Aging

The Public School Construction Director stated the goal of reaching a statewide average school facility age of 20 years. The current average is 30 years and has been creeping upwards since 2005.

The Local Role

There was significant discussion about the county role in school construction funding, and the local school system role in prioritizing school construction projects. Regarding the former:

Senator Peters, referencing a statement in the presentation that State’s contribution to school construction made up 26% of annual school construction funding, asked how much county governments were contributing to school construction funding.

That would be 74%, stated Gorrell.

Peters reflected on the importance of understanding the county funding role, especially as the General Assembly would consider school construction legislation in the 2020 Session. Superintendent Salmon, the chair of the Workgroup, suggested that Gorrell provide additional information on this point to the Workgroup and he agreed.

For more information on the first meeting of the Workgroup, see the full agenda and materials.