Arlotto, Schuh lobby state officials for more school funding

January 25, 2017

Anne Arundel County officials on Wednesday made a pitch for more state money for school construction projects, including funds for a high school in Crofton, a replacement Arnold Elementary School and revitalization work at George Cromwell Elementary School.

Schools Superintendent George Arlotto and County Executive Steve Schuh joined leaders from counties across the state for the annual "begathon," a day-long hearing in which school systems appeal to the Board of Public Works for more financial support as the governor and General Assembly craft a budget.

Gov. Larry Hogan's spending plan, unveiled last week, so far includes $21.2 million for school construction in Anne Arundel. The governor says he plans on funding more than $300 million in school projects statewide in fiscal 2018, which begins July 1.

Arlotto asked Hogan, who sits on the board with Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, for another nearly $50 million to fulfill the remainder of the school system's $70 million capital request to the state.

The superintendent said the projects take a "mindful approach" to the budget that "reflects our educational mission, goals and programs over the coming decade."

The costliest item on the school system's list of requests is just shy of $26 million for a Crofton-area high school. Schuh has said the project, which would be the first new high school for the county in more than 20 years, is a top priority for his administration, and his capital improvement plan includes $124.4 million through fiscal 2020 to pay for building the school.

"With respect to capital construction, our huge backlog is no secret — you've been hearing about it for a long time," Schuh told the board. "I'm committed to accelerating school construction."

Three of the system's most decrepit elementary schools — Tyler Heights, Edgewater and Richard Henry Lee — were not among this year's state funding requests, but Arlotto asked the board to green-light the projects so the school system can request money next year.

The elementary schools, rated most in need of improvement by a 2015 priority study, were the subject of parent and teacher calls for funding last budget season after they were initially passed over for planning and design money in Schuh's budget. In response to that outcry, the county executive restored planning and design funds for the schools in fiscal 2017.

Though those schools won't be seeing state funding this year, Arlotto has requested county money for all three in fiscal 2018. His budget includes $15.1 million for Edgewater, $14.3 million for Tyler Heights and $13 million for Richard Henry Lee, for project design and renovation work.

The school system's other big-ticket requests Wednesday included an additional $11.6 million for a replacement Jessup Elementary School (Hogan's budget proposal awarded the project $1 million), $5.2 million for a replacement Arnold Elementary School and $3.1 million for revitalization work at George Cromwell Elementary School in Glen Burnie.

Arlotto also highlighted a request for more money for renovations at Meade Middle School and Four Seasons and Broadneck elementary schools. He also asked for $1.2 million for a six-classroom addition at Solley Elementary School, which is projected to see steady enrollment growth as residential development in the area advances.

Arlotto and Schuh also took questions from Franchot about the school system's treatment of children whose parents are undocumented immigrants or who may themselves be undocumented.

President Donald Trump, who has advocated stricter enforcement of immigration laws, signed an executive order Wednesday to start the construction of a wall along the border with Mexico. The president is also expected in coming days to sign another order blocking Syrian refugees from entering the country and suspending immigration of people from a half-dozen majority-Muslim countries.

Arlotto said the Anne Arundel school system does not ask its students for proof of citizenship.

"For us in Anne Arundel County, all means all," he said. "If students enter our building, we register them." He said the school system has bilingual employees who have reached out to immigrant communities to "reassure parents that schools are a safe place to be."

Schuh said his administration "believes that the United States should enforce its border laws and ... that citizenship should mean something in this country."

But he said he "wholeheartedly" supports the schools system's policy toward children of immigrants.

"These young children, from wherever they came, they're here, they're in our care, they have to be educated and provided for ... Any human being deserves to be cared for."

School funding decisions head next to Maryland legislators, who must approve a spending plan before the session ends in April.

http://www.capitalgazette.com/news/schools/ph-ac-cn-begathon-0126-20170125-story.html