Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz unveiled Wednesday a $1.1 billion school building program to accommodate increased enrollment of more than 9,000 students.
The plan, announced as part of his State of the County/Budget Message, would renovate and expand some schools and replace others over the next 10 years.
Kamenetz’ “Schools for our Future” program would replace buildings that are at least 40 years old; add 11,000 new classroom seats and eliminate a projected shortage of 1,400 seats. It would provide air conditioning for every elementary and middle school as well as most of the high schools.
The program will include a new elementary school for the New Town section of Owings Mills. Kamenetz expects that school to open in the fall of 2015.
The plan, however, is contingent upon the approval of the County Council, Board of Education and county voters, who will see a $158 million bond referendum for school construction this fall.
Kamenetz says the request, which will be repeated in 2016 and 2018, will be double – and sometimes triple – what the county has asked for in the past. The county is also anticipating the state to chip in at least $240 million dollars in each of those years.
Kamenetz, who said it will be the first time the county has ever looked at a long term plan for school construction, said the idea came about after work on installing air conditioning on older buildings began. The cost of the work was more expensive compared with newer buildings.
Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Southwest Baltimore County, complimented, the county executive for addressing school overcrowding issue.
“The overcrowding issues that we’ve had in the southwest area, which have been significant, are fundamentally being resolved over the next several areas,” he said.
Under the program for Quirk’s district, there will be funding to replace Lansdowne Elementary School in its current location and a new elementary school to serve the communities between U.S. Route 40 and Security Boulevard.
Quirk said with this budget Kamenetz will be known as “the education county executive;” an assertion that Councilman John Olszewski Sr. agreed with.
“When [Kamenetz] first took office [in 2010,] the schools without air conditioning rate was 52 percent,” said Olszewksi, who is retiring at the end of his fourth term in office. “It’s now down to 22 percent which is a big drop.”
His Southeastern Baltimore County district is expected to get two new elementary schools under the plan.
Education makes up 53 percent of the proposed $1.75 billion operating budget. Kamenetz is proposing to fund 90 additional teaching positions including ones for the new Mays Chapel Elementary school, which is to open in the fall. He is also setting aside $2.5 million for the One-Card safety identification system which students can use as a school ID, a library card and to pay for school lunches.
Other budget highlights include $7.2 million to strengthen the county’s retirement system. Kamenetz is calling it a conservative move to make sure there is money in the system 30 years from now. County employees – including those at the board of education, library and community college, will receive a three percent bonus this fall. He also announced a two-year contract extension with all labor bargaining groups along with no furloughs this year.
The 26-year streak of not raising the county’s $1.10 property tax rate continues. The county also remains one of only 38 in the country to maintain a AAA bond rating.
Kamenetz also included $7.5 million for new technological projects as well as $1.7 million to provide Wi-Fi access at all county schools, libraries, community centers and senior centers. The county will also implement Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone service to county government which is expected to save $604,000 a year.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 29 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers. The council is scheduled to adopt the budget in May.