Different Angles on a New State School Construction Program

Several ideas were raised by Commissioners and local governments testifying before the 21st Century School Facilities Commission today on what to change, and what to keep, about the state school construction program.

In a letter to the State Superintendent, Martin Knott, Chair of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission stated,

“. . . the IAC may undergo changes in the very near future, changes that the Commission believe will improve the IAC as an independent organization and the school construction review and approval process.”-Martin Knott, Chair of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission

He restated this intent today at a meeting of the Commission in Annapolis, outlining a plan to provide recommendations on the Interagency Committee on School Construction to the General Assembly this December.

One of the first to testify before the Commission at today’s meeting was the Maryland Secretary of Planning, Wendi Peters. Possibly in response to comments made at a previous meeting questioning whether or not the Planning Department needed a voting seat on the Interagency Committee on School Construction, the Secretary made clear her desire to maintain a voting position,

“We would respectfully request that as you consider the structure of the IAC, going forward, that you also carefully consider the unique training and the experience that Planning brings to the table, and maintain Planning’s role, not just as a consultant, but as a voting member in the decision-making process.”-Secretary of Planning Wendi Peters

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz submitted testimony recommending the state distribute school construction funding in a block grant format to improve the efficiency of the program and the ability of local jurisdictions to meet market conditions. From his testimony,

State School Construction Funds should be distributed to the counties in the form of a block grant. The funding distribution formula can be developed using specific, equitable guidelines and local jurisdictions will be bale to use up to their current maximum State percentage for total project costs. Projects can be required to continue to adhere to IAC policies and could be audited for compliance.

Commissioner Barbara Hoffman, who is also a member of the Interagency Committee on School Construction raised the idea of differentiation between counties, that the IAC’s review process might differ depending on a local school system’s ability to manage and review its own school construction projects.

“I’m very interested in the concept of differentiation. One of the reasons why we’re looking at the structure of the Public School Construction Program and the IAC is that the counties are very different one from the another–some have much more capacity to do things themselves than others.” – Commissioner Barbara Hoffman

Frederick County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Ray Barnes suggested a possible new direction for the State’s Public School Construction Program, with a focus on research and development rather than plan review,

A concentration on research and development would. . . be a useful focus for a State Agency like the Public School Construction Program. They could engage in research on new technologies in HVAC systems, less expensive approaches to construction methods, trending data on the impact of instructional technology on classroom design, options to the LEEDs program for meeting the [State’s] energy performance requirement, etc.  In order to do this they would need to re-purpose their mission from what it is now, provide equity among school facilities throughout the State to include something like:  Research emerging trends in design and construction to provide cost effective schools for Maryland students.


From L-R, Dorchester County School Facilities Manager Chris Hague, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Calvert County School Construction Director George Leah, and Frederick County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Ray Barnes testify before the 21st Century School Facilities Commission.

For more information, see the video of the hearing, and check the General Assembly website for testimony and other materials.





Maryland Awarded $2 Million Grant to Expand Apprenticeships

The federal ApprenticeshipUSA Expansion Grant will be used to invest in the State’s registered apprenticeship program.


According to the Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation, this US Department of Labor grant funding will be used grow traditional and non-traditional industry sectors,

Maryland will use the grant funds and leveraged resources to catalyze efforts to grow and diversify Apprenticeships to provide a sustainable employment pipeline in both traditional and non-traditional industry sectors focusing on three critical elements:

  1. Expanding Capacity by Increasing Staffing and Infrastructure
  2. Outreach/Education
  3. Advancing Innovative Practices

Secretary Kelly Schulz of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation stated in a press release,

Under the leadership of Governor Hogan, Maryland is working toward a sizeable increase in apprenticeships, from 7,186 in 2012 to 9,258 today, with a goal of 9,500 by the end of 2016.

MACo follows apprenticeship and workforce development issues that affect the school construction industry. As highlighted at MACo’s Spring Symposium, workforce shortages in school construction have led to additional costs, and future shortages are predicted. For more information, see School Construction Workforce Shortages – Bracing the Gaps.

For more information about the ApprenticeshipUSA grant, see DLLR’s apprenticeship grant information and the DLLR Press Release.

Letter to Superintendent Predicts Possible Changes to School Construction Agency

The Chair of the 21st School Facilities Commission writes to inform Maryland’s Education Secretary of the Commission’s pending recommendations, including changes to the State’s school construction program.

The Chair of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission has contacted the State Superintendent anticipating changes in the “very near future” to the State’s Interagency Committee on School Construction.

The State Superintendent is also the Chair of the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC). The Executive Director of the Public School Construction program, a post vacated by Dr. David Lever earlier this year, is appointed by the IAC with the approval of the Board of Public Works.

The 21st Century School Facilities Commission is in the process of developing recommendations to improve the state’s school construction process. Recommendations are due out in December, before the start of the legislative session.

The Chair of the Commission writes,

I understand that the IAC is in the process of recruiting candidates to fill the executive director position. I think it is important that the executive director candidates be informed that the IAC may undergo changes in the very near future, changes that the Commission believe will improve the IAC as an independent organization and the school construction review and approval process.

For more information, read the full letter from Martin Knott, the Chair of the Commission, and for background, see Back to the Future on School Construction and Dr. Lever Resigns From Top School Construction Position.


State Board of Education Member Resigns Over School Year Flap

As reported by the Washington Post and several other news outlets, a State Board of Education member has resigned following the Governor’s school start date executive order.

S. James Gates Jr. is a theoretical physicist, known for work on superstring theory. He is a professor in the physics department at the University of Maryland and was Vice President of the Maryland State Board of Education.

Gates submitted his letter of resignation to Hogan during a state board meeting Tuesday.

In the letter, Gates cites the Governor’s revised school start date executive order and his concerns about its potential negative effects on at-risk and ambitious students. Later, he writes,

“When I accepted to serve, it was my understanding the laws of Maryland were very clear about the independence and the authority of the State Board of Education with regard to policy in this domain. I agreed to serve under those conditions.”

For more information, read the full story from the Post.

A Federal Education Update from Local School Boards

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education has posted information from their annual meeting in Ocean City, Maryland, including a presentation on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

The head table at the Maryland Association of Boards of Education Conference.

From the Association,

The conference provided workshops on a wide variety of topics pertinent to school board members. In addition to presentations from individual school districts, attendees were able to choose from subjects such as school law, The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), community engagement, special education, and school construction.

From the Maryland Association of Boards of Education:

For more information, see MACo’s coverage of the MABE Conference:





Q&A: Keeping Up With School Construction

MACo has adopted four top priorities for the 2017 General Assembly Session. This post outlines MACo’s school construction priority. For additional information about MACo’s priorities, read all of MACo’s top initiatives.

Q: Why is School Construction a County Issue?

A: Schools have a vital role in every community and are important to quality of life throughout Maryland.

County governments seek to promote a better quality of life throughout Maryland and county elected officials know that schools are an integral facet of every community. The quality of schools is not only important to families and children, but to those who teach and work at schools, those who attend classes or play sports events at schools in evenings, and even those who use schools as their polling place or their emergency management shelter.

Schools have a strong effect on property values, and can draw higher-income families to neighborhoods, increasing income-tax bases. In many ways, schools are the heart of a community. As described further below, county governments have responsibility for local school construction costs. In Maryland, unlike most states, local school boards are fiscally-dependent on state and county funding and cannot raise their own revenue through taxes or levies.

Q: Has Maryland Been Keeping Up With School Construction?

A: No, not really.

School construction costs have risen rapidly in the past ten years for a variety of reasons, including labor markets, state and federal regulations, and educational program changes, such as in increase in the use of technology in the classroom.

At the same time, several areas of the State have experienced student enrollment increases. Population estimates indicate that Maryland will experience record high school enrollments over the next ten years due to the baby boom prior to the recession.

Despite rapidly increasing school construction costs, the state’s commitment has not increased, leaving the difference in funding required to meet basic school construction needs the responsibility of local governments, straining local budgets.


Figure 1 Annual funding for the State’s main school construction program has not changed significantly over the past several years.

screenshot-2016-10-20-13-46-06Figure 2 Construction costs have increased dramatically over the past several years, as illustrated by these estimates from the Public School Construction Program.

As described by the Public School Construction Program, if the State’s commitment had kept pace with increasing school construction costs over the past decade, the State’s year-to-year goal for school construction should have been $475 million per year, rather than $250 million.

“In the summer of 2003, a study of the cost to bring all Maryland schools to minimum standards of performance indicated a need for a $3.85 billion total expenditure. If a similar study were undertaken today and the same or equivalent deficiencies were found, the total cost to correct the deficiencies beginning in the summer of 2017 would increase to almost $7.4 billion. The $2 billion that was defined as an eight-year goal for State funding in the Public School Facilities Act of 2004 would need to be increased to approximately $3.8 billion, or about $475 million per year over eight years.” – Public School Construction Program presentation to the Capital Debt Affordability Committee

Several county governments experienced major cost-overruns of school construction projects in this time-period. In some counties, the state’s funding commitment had already been set, and could not be adjusted upwards to accommodate rapidly rising costs, leaving even more expenses for county governments. For more information, see our previous posts:

Q: How Are Counties Helping Out?

A: County governments provide more funding for school construction than the state or the federal government.

K-12 capital needs are the second largest category of county government spending, second only to spending on public works, which includes essential infrastructure such as roads, bridges, drinking water and sewer systems. In fiscal year 2016, K-12 capital spending made up 28% of county capital budgets.

In FY 2016, annual county capital budgets for K-12 capital projects totaled more than $1 billion, while state funding for school construction was approximately $338 million. Federal funding for school construction is minimal.

The 2016 State of Our Schools Report found that Maryland’s state funding for school construction was 26% over a 20 year period, ranking it 15th among states in school construction support.

While the state provides more school construction funding to counties with less wealth, all county governments are responsible for the many costs that are not eligible for state funding. For example, the State does not contribute any funding towards the acquisition of property to build a school, or towards a school’s interior furnishings, including classroom technology.

Q: Did the State Ever Contribute More for School Construction?

A: Yes.

It was not always this way. The state used to provide funding towards many more public school construction costs. As described by the Public School Construction Program 2016’s Capital Improvement Program, the State contribution was generally about 95-99% of the project cost when the school construction program began,

When the Public School Construction Program first started, the State paid for architectural and engineering fees and movable furniture and equipment in addition to the construction costs of the project. The State contribution was generally about 95-99% of the project cost. . . In the mid-1970s the responsibility for architectural and engineering fees was shifted to the localities, and the cost of movable furniture and equipment was similarly shifted in the mid-1980s. Starting in the mid-1980s a shared State-local cost formula was implemented to determine the State participation in eligible school construction costs. The formula took into consideration the relative wealth of a jurisdiction.

Q: How Can Maryland Meet School Construction Needs?

A: County governments have proposed the following suggestions for making the most effective use of taxpayer dollars while meeting the needs of school construction:

Increase State funding: Maintain and strengthen the State’s commitment to school construction capital funding in recognition of increases in school construction costs. Integrate student technology expenses and other costs resulting from State mandates into the State’s funding formula for school construction.

Develop Incentives for Effective Spending: Create incentives for use of cost-effective measures including repeating the same school design, cost-effective construction management practices, and remove impediments to alternative financing.

Streamline School Construction Processes: Examine the timeline for school construction and consider ways to better coordinate the timeline with local budget processes so that local planning efforts are streamlined and state funding is not left in limbo.

Reduce Regulatory Cost-drivers: Assess the cost-drivers of modern school construction, such as achieving new environmental and energy standards, satisfying heightened needs for technology, ensuring student safety, fulfilling community resource needs, and integrating evolving teaching methods. Then, determine if there are more cost-effective means to achieving regulatory aims and provide options for pursuing less costly alternatives within state law and regulation. At the same time, the state should review and revise labor laws and regulations that apply to the school construction sector, including the prevailing wage law and regulations. Delaying the effective date of state laws and regulations that may increase school construction costs will allow for study of potential effects.

Create a Statewide Maintenance Fund and Promote School Maintenance: Provide a predictable and accountable State-level commitment to school facility maintenance funding. This funding will enable school board spending on maintenance at 2% of current replacement value, a widely accepted methodology for protecting capital investments.

State Board to Discuss Maryland’s ESSA Plan, Start Date Order

The agenda for the next meeting of the State Board of Education includes discussion of Maryland’s educational plan under the new federal law, several regulatory changes, and the Governor’s School Start Date Executive Order. 

screenshot-2016-10-20-12-13-41Meeting Details

Time: 9:00 a.m.

Date: Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Location: Nancy S. Grasmick State Education Building 200 West Baltimore Street – 7th Floor Board Room Baltimore, Maryland 21201-2595

Agenda Items of Interest:

9:50 a.m. Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Accountability Plan – Remarks from MABE Representative(s)

1:50 p.m. Local Financial Reporting Requirement

2:00 p.m. Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR)

  • COMAR 13A.06.07 Student Transportation (RETURN – FOR PUBLICATION)
  • COMAR 13A.04.05 Education that is Multicultural (AMEND)
  • COMAR 13A.04.19 Program in Cosmetology (AMEND)
  • COMAR 13A.04.20 Program for Barbers(AMEND)
  • COMAR 13A.12.04.04B(3)(a)Administrator I (AMEND)
  • COMAR 13A.05.10 Automated External Defibrillator Program in High Schools (AMEND)
  • COMAR 13A.03.02 Graduation Requirements (ADOPTION)

4:00 p.m. State Board Member Discussion of Executive Order – Starting the School Year After Labor Day

4:30 p.m. State Superintendent’s PARCC Update

For more information, see the full agenda.

For background, see our previous posts on ESSA: Meet ESSA, the New Federal Education LawSetting Maryland’s Next Education Accountability PlanFederal Dollars to Supplement, Not Supplant State & Local Education Funding and the most recent school start date order: Governor Releases Rules for Labor Day Start Date Waivers.

K-12 Funding Consultants: Spend $2.6B More, Huge Winners/Losers

Consultants hired to review Maryland’s education funding structure released a draft final report that includes major re-distributions in state aid and new local funding mandates. 

These recommendations will inform the work of the major school funding commission empaneled to develop legislative changes in time for the 2018 session.

The Adequacy Study Stakeholder Group met in Baltimore today for a presentation of the draft final report prepared by APA, the State’s consultants in the follow-up to the Thornton Commission. In the hearing room of the State Board of Education, stakeholders heard a report from the consultants and asked many questions.

The report calls for an infusion of $2.6B in additional annual education funding, a 25% increase from current funding levels. The consultants recommend splitting the increase between state and county governments.

  • The total State share for major state aid programs, excluding transportation, would increase from $4.9 billion to $6.8 billion – an increase of $1.9 billion or 39 percent – over current fiscal year 2015 state aid.
  • While the local increase in funding required is only an estimate, the consultants state that using comparison data, the local share would increase from $5.7 billion to $6.4 billion, an increase of $710.5 million or 12 percent.

The consultants also recommend a change to the distribution of funding for education by raising the base amount provided per student, and lowering additional amounts provided to education students with limited English proficiency and compensate for other educational needs.

According to the consultants, this change would follow the trend of other states and is a way of bringing all students up to today’s higher education standards. In the words of the consultants, the shift represents

. . . more instructional supports and social supports for all students, with additional resources above that amount for some students.

The report totals 140 pages with an additional 199 pages of appendices. Following are a few recommendations in the report of particular interest to county governments, with links to the draft report.

Eliminate State Aid Minimums – Zero Fund Three Counties

The consultants recommend elimination of state aid minimums for education funding.

As a result of this recommendation and others, projections show that three districts in Maryland would not receive any state education funding. From the report,

Click for original chart.

Maryland’s current funding programs provide minimum state funding guarantees for the foundation and special needs state aid programs. . Eliminating the state aid minimums will free-up State funding dollars which could be used to provide additional support to those districts with lower local wealth and higher needs.

Mandatory Local Share of Special Education Funding

The consultants state in their draft final report that school districts are not currently required to provide a local share towards special needs education funding and recommend that such a contribution be made mandatory.

From the report,

. . . districts are not required to provide a local share for any of these special needs total program formulas. . . .the study team recommends that all districts should be required to appropriate the full local share for all of the special needs funding programs.

This recommendation did not appear in any of the preliminary documents or discussions before the stakeholder group, and prompted several questions by stakeholders regarding the way the requirement would be implemented considering the current maintenance of effort funding law. The consultants stated that they had not considered the maintenance of effort law in developing this report,but would put it on their to-do list for final revisions.

For more information, see a discussion of the minimum state share and special needs recommendation (charts follow the discussion).

Declining Enrollment

The study team recommends adjustments to cushion effects from declining enrollment. These issues have arisen in several parts of the state in recent years, raising questions about “fixed costs” and immediacy of funding changes. Maryland has reacted to these concerns with a patchwork of recent statutory efforts.

From the report,

The proposed methodology would use three years of enrollment information in the calculation of the total enrollment figure, allowing districts to absorb the loss of funding related to the loss of students over time. A district would receive the greater of two counts:

  1. the prior year’s enrollment count or
  2. the average of the three prior years’ counts.

As described, the calculation holds districts with growing enrollments harmless from a decrease in aid.

Cost of Education (GCEI)

The study recommends using a rolling three-year average of the Comparable Wealth Index  (CWI) to replace the current Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI). This represents a far broader component than the current GCEI, with effects on every jurisdiction – all based on non-education salary data.

As described,

  • The study team further recommends all formula funds (foundation, compensatory education, Limited English Proficiency, and special education) be adjusted by the CWI.
  • The study team also recommends that adjustments be made for districts with CWI figures above and below the statewide average, which would result in funding increases for regions with higher than average costs and decreases for regions with lower than average regional costs.
  • Finally, the study team recommends the CWI adjusted total funding figures be used as the basis for calculating state and local share, meaning the costs of the CWI adjustment would be borne by the state and local jurisdictions.

See how the CWI index would shift funding under the new model and see the state/local cost share breakdown of the CWI.

Calculating Wealth

The study team recommended changes to the wealth calculation — creating indeces of both property and income tax bases and multiplying the two — that would magnify its impact. Concern regarding this approach was raised by stakeholders and staff to the Commission. The consultants shared that this approach had been recommended to other states, but none had implemented it.

From the report,

Combining Assessed Property Values and NTI. Currently, Maryland includes both property and income wealth in its measurement of a district’s local wealth. The study team recommends continuing to include both of these components but recommends an alternative approach to combining them into a single local wealth figure. Instead of using the current additive approach for combining property and income wealth, in which a county’s assessed property value and NTI are added together, the study team recommends using a multiplicative approach. Using this approach, each county’s assessed property wealth is adjusted by multiplying by the ratio of the county’s NTI to the state average NTI. This method gives NTI a greater weight in the overall wealth calculation than is the case using the current method.

See an illustration of the way this change would affect wealth calculations.

Universal Pre-K

The consultants recommend universal high-quality pre-Kindergarten for 4-year old students in Maryland, with the expectation that 80% of 4-years old will enroll in pre-K programs. With approximately 77% of Maryland’s 4 year-olds currently enrolled, this recommendation focuses on improving the quality of existing programs, and making them full-day. The consultants stated,

The most bang for the buck is high-quality universal pre-K for all 4-year olds.

The report states,

Screenshot 2016-10-18 16.33.00.png
Consultants recommend including pre-K students in enrollment counts with a weight of 0.29.

Maryland currently provides funding for prekindergarten students who meet specific qualifying criteria related to the income of the child’s family. The study team recommends a goal of providing high-quality prekindergarten for up to 80 percent of four-year old students. The recommended program is six-and-a-half hours long in a public or private setting that has earned an EXCELS rating of level 5, and is nationally accredited or is a public school program.

The ACLU’s representative on the Stakeholder group, Bebe Verdery asked the Commission to provide cost and policy information on also providing pre-K to 3-year old children from disadvantaged backgrounds in their final report.

Next Steps

The consultants asked stakeholders to provide them with any comments on the draft report as they prepare to deliver the final report to the Kirwan Commission in November. The Kirwan Commission will have until the fall of 2017 to prepare legislative recommendations based on the report and other findings.

For more information, read the Adequacy Study: Draft Final Report.






School Board Employment “Not Incompatible” with County Commissioner Role

The Maryland Attorney General has issued an opinion stating that there is no reason in state law that employees of the school system may not also have a role in local government, the Carroll County Times reports.

As reported in the Carroll County Times, this question arose from Carroll County regarding the election of Dennis Frazier to to County Board of Commissioners,

Frazier, R-District 3, a part-time teacher at East Middle School and a wrestling coach at Century High School, was elected to the county’s Board of Commissioners in November 2014. The issue of whether his employment by the school system constitutes a conflict of interest, and violates the county ethics code, was first raised in the Republican primary election and had dogged him ever since.

The Times reports that the Attorney General has now answered the question,

“The office of county commissioner, which includes the function of serving ex officio on the school board, is not incompatible with employment by the school board as a teacher,” Attorney General Brian Frosh said in an opinion issued in late July. The response was co-signed by Adam Snyder, the AG’s chief counsel of opinions and advice. The office did not offer an opinion on whether Frazier should be permitted to vote on school-related issues.

For more information, see the full story from the Carroll County Times.

Back to the Future on School Construction

The former Maryland Planning Secretary testifies before a Commission seeking to modernize the State’s school construction program.

At this week’s meeting of the the 21st Century School Facilities Commission, the Commission heard testimony today from former Secretary of Planning, Rich Hall.

During this presentation, Hall emphasized the value of the current system of school construction project review by the State. He pointed to the way that collaboration between staff at several state agencies has built institutional knowledge and a history of collective experience that informs the review process.

Following his presentation, the State Treasurer, a member of the Commission, asked Hall to describe the Planning Department’s role in the school construction review process.

Hall summarized the Planning Department role as:

  • Providing enrollment projections
  • Raising adjacency issues of schools close to other schools
  • Sharing how location relates to growth policies and zoning
  • Checking if there are sufficient utilities to support the new school
  • Advocating that LEED silver requirements be applied to schools
  • Raising broader concerns such as sea level rise, community needs, and student safety

Commissioner Bohanan, a current member of the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC), asked Hall to give his perspective on whether the role of Department of Planning on the IAC, is of a technical or a policy advisory-nature. Hall stated that the review of the IAC was primarily technical, describing interactions that were collegial and votes that were rarely controversial.

Commissioner Barbara Hoffman, also a current member of the IAC, asked at what point the state’s project review occurs, stating that it seems that by the time the IAC is involved, the local school system is already down the road with planning.

Commissioner Richard Reznick asked if there is overlap between research at IAC and research done at the local level. Hall stated that it is possible that the vertical collaboration could be advanced.

Chairman Knott asked if the Planning Department needs a vote on the IAC, to which Hall responded, no, as long as the technical concerns and input of the Department are being considered and defended.

Commissioner Jones, Chair of the House Capital Budget Subcommittee, asked about the role of the Board of Public Works. Hall stated that the Board is an important part of the process, but that in this eight years on the IAC, there was very limited policy issue involvement from the Board. He stated that given his knowledge of the consistent and rule-driven process of the IAC, it was painful to read about the air conditioning debate in the news.

Commissioner Gardner, Frederick County Executive, raised that counties are aware that the State is only going to contribute funding for schools built in a priority funding areas, and if a county chooses to build outside of a priority funding area, they do so at the risk of paying the whole cost of the school.

For more information about this week’s meeting of the School Facilities Commission, see the meeting materials or watch the video of the October 13th meeting in the Appropriations Committee on the Maryland General Assembly website.