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The HCPSS Capital Budget Falls Short of Projected Needs

HCPSS has come out with its proposed 2016 capital budget and ten-year capital improvement program. Why should we care, especially those without children in HCPSS anymore, about the school system’s capital plan? The answer is simple – money. The proposed ten-year plan spends billions of your tax dollars, many on very necessary school maintenance and construction. The question is whether certain expenditures are being spent wisely.

If you examine projected residential growth, especially in the eastern part of Howard County, keeping up with school construction needs is more important than ever. We face an ever-worsening overcrowding crisis. Without a plan to increase physical school capacity, that crisis is inevitably going to lead to the decline of the quality of education of our students.

Consider this:

  • According to the capital budget, HCPSS is projected to enroll 12,013 additional students between 2015 and 2025. A total of 5,462 (Grades K-12) additional seats are provided in the FY 2016 – 2025 Long-Range Master Plan. According to my math, that means that this capital improvement plan only provides 45% of the seats necessary to accommodate projected student growth. Despite this, the HCPSS document still states “the proposed capital program is sufficient to meet near-term student enrollment needs. Really?

  • There is no site for a badly needed high school in the eastern part of the county. The longer HCPSS waits to acquire this badly needed site, large enough plots of land become more scarce in the eastern part of the county and the more expensive the land will be, if there even is any.

  • The need for a high school is clear: HCPSS projects enrollments by 2019 at Hammond HS to be 131.2%, at Long Reach, 125.5%, at Centennial, 121%, and at Howard HS, 164.9%.

  • This problem cannot be solved by redistricting alone. The only HS with even a small amount of open space is Oakland Mills HS, and it is not enough space to alleviate the overcrowding at nearby high schools (Long Reach, Hammond, Howard).

  • This capital plan pushes a new high school off to the year 2026, while enrollments and overcrowding continue to worsen. As many know, development is not halted due to HS crowding either.

  • There are 3 HS renovations in this plan: Hammond HS, at a cost of $78.3 million; Oakland Mills HS, at a cost of $70.6 million, and Centennial HS, at a cost of $70.5 million. Despite the overcrowding crisis that HCPSS faces in its high schools, none of these renovations includes adding capacity for enrollment growth. Why can’t these renovations, which are a fraction of the cost of building separately, add seats to these schools?

Now it’s time to pay attention:

In Aug 14, 2014, the Board of Education held a pre-development public hearing and work session on the capital improvement needs for the upcoming capital budget. You’ll notice this meeting took place almost two weeks before school started, while many families were on vacation.

The next opportunity for public input was a public hearing on the capital budget on Sep 23, 2014, but because the work session/approval of the capital budget was the same night, the Board would not have had time to thoughtfully consider any input given by the public that night.

The next opportunity for public input into the HCPSS Capital Budget and 10 year capital improvement plan will be in April or May before the County Council, and then on May 7, 2015, in front of the Howard County Board of Education.

Do you think HCPSS is making wise decisions when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars on critical school infrastructure? Does the capital improvement program adequately address school capacity? Can we wait until 2026 for a new high school to be built? Should almost $150 million be spent on renovations that don’t increase capacity ONE seat?

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