Discussion at the Howard County Council meeting with SAAC committee
I put up the speech last night and did not do much grammar check.
Chair Walsh, thanks for inviting me to this meeting. This is Dr. Chao Wu, chair of Howard County Board of Education. I am not speaking on behalf of the board, even though probably every board member agrees with me. I appreciate the county council for giving me the opportunity.
Since the release of the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee (SAAC) report, it has been a month and half. Our county executive already released his 2022 capital budget.
I would like to talk about the SAAC report and the ongoing challenges the school system is facing. I am also proposing two possible solutions.
First, let’s talk about 2022 school system capital projects. There is an urgent funding need for school maintenance and three new construction projects (Talbott Springs ES, Hammond High and HS 13). Under the county executive 2022 capital budget, the gap is as high as 30 million dollars for the school system.
- The Board and HCPSS staff have continuously noted during public discussions with the County Council and State Delegation regarding the costs of these three construction projects. These projects moved forward with construction in 2021 because of the joint commitment to maintain this funding.
- However, with the current capital funding level from the county’s 2022 capital budget, we have to defer many maintenance projects again. Some projects have been deferred for more than 10 years, even 20 years. That is one reason why the school system is having a 800 million dollars maintenance list since we keep deferring them. Here are some examples:
- ARL Heating ventilation and Air Conditioning renovation, last replaced 1968. Older than many people here. The cost is 25 million dollars.
- Centennial High School Renovation, Addition and HVAC replacement, last replaced 1997. Cost 90 million dollars.
- Dunloggin Middle School, Renovation, Addition and HVAC replacement, last replaced in 1994, cost 41 million dollars.
- Elkridge Landing Middle School, HVAC replacement, last replaced 1995. Cost 10 million dollars
- Forest Ridge Elementary School, Heating ventilation and air conditioning system replacement, last replaced 1992, cost 42 million dollars
- Fulton Elementary School, HVAC and Roof replacement, last replaced 1997, cost 18 million dollars
- Hammond Middle School, Renovation and HVAC replacement, 41 million dollars
- Harpers Choice Middle school, renovation and HVAC replacement, 17 million dollars,
- Jefferson Hills ES, Boiler replacement, last replaced 1974, cost 0.5 million dollars; HVAC replacement, last replaced 1998, cost 51 million dollars
- Long Reach High School, HVAC replacement, 38 million dollars
- Manor Woods Elementary School, HVAC replacement, last replaced 1994, cost 10 million dollars
- Mayfield Woods MS renovation, 41 million dollars
- Oakland Mills High School, renovation, last renovated 1973, cost 110 million
- Oakland Mills Middle School renovation, 51 million dollars
- Old Cedar Lane, replacement of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, last replaced 1982, cost 10 million dollars
- Patapsco Middle School, Renovation and HVAC replacement, last replaced 1996, cost 51 million dollars
- Pointers Run Elementary School, renovation, 20 million dollars
- St Johns Lane Elementary School, HVAC replacement, , 16 million dollars
- Wilde Lake High School, HVAC and boilers replacement. Cost 5.5 million dollars.
- New school construction is needed for our country’s rapid development and continuous student enrollment increase.
- Maintenance funding is needed to provide a safe and pleasant working and learning environment.
- Missing either new school funding or the maintenance funding will lead us to a more dire situation since we don’t see any relief coming soon: future county revenue projection is slowing down and the student enrollment keeps increasing due to fast housing development across the whole county.
Second, let’s talk about the operating budget. We are looking forward that a hold-harmless number (maintaining FY21 funding level) should be maintained. We did see the enrollment dip because of the pandemic. However, we should expect the student will come back in the fall when we expect HCPSS will have full five-day in-classroom instruction. We should have this confidence that HCPSS will continue to provide quality education to attract parents and students to come to our school.
Third, over the last three budget cycles, HCPSS has realigned and reduced spending considerably by eliminating positions, increasing class sizes and cutting programs to balance our budget. We can only do so much with limited funding.
Finally, I strongly believe and propose a solution: our county’s capital project funding ,operating budget funding and our county’s planning and zoning (by the way, I mean HoCo by Design or the general plan) should always put HCPSS in the center of every decision.
Proposal for MOE formula for deferred maintenance
I also propose that we create an MOE (maintenance of effort) for deferred maintenance too, which will hold our county executive and county council accountable for our school system’s maintenance funding. Once a current aging HVAC system fails catastrophically and no replacement parts will be available due to the old aging system, we have no wiggle room to defer them any longer. The longer we kick the can further away, the higher cost it needs in the future. Keeping deferring them is to cheat ourselves and jeopardize our short term and long term financial health. Past decisions not funding them sufficiently and aggregating to such a large number should be a waking call for us all.
More than 90% of our county’s tax comes from personal income tax and property tax. We should value our parents’ trust in our education system. So all stakeholders, including the county executive, county council and the school board should work hard, both on the funding side and planning side to maintain HCPSS’s reputation.