Hogan, Franchot criticize spending on school construction

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By Darcy Costello

Capital News Service

In a heated discussion with the head of the school construction program, Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot aired serious concerns about the state’s spending on public school projects at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting.

“We can’t just keep shoveling more and more money without accountability,” Hogan said. “The taxpayers are getting pretty frustrated with the results.”

David Lever, executive director of the state’s Public School Construction Program, appeared before the board to explain a contract for additional funding to local school systems with significant enrollment growth or relocatable classrooms. In the contract, which was approved 3-0 by the board, $5,864,000 went to Gaithersburg High School and $1,046,000 went to Severna Park High School.

Gaithersburg High School

Gaithersburg High School

Franchot, a Democrat, emphasized that he had no problems funding work on individual schools, but questioned the way the state’s public construction money is spent.

Lever said that the Interagency Committee on School Construction doesn’t have the power to control how districts spend the state funds.

“The money can be spent any way they want,” he said.

Costs rise post-recession

At a Interagency Committee on School Construction meeting Sept. 17, Lever emphasized the role the post-recession recovery has played in escalating public school construction costs.

“Five years ago, school construction had steady funding. Today, it’s a different thing altogether,” Lever said in September. “Construction costs have gone up considerably and they have to cut back … The recession hurt construction because they lost people and they can’t get people to come back.”

In the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday, Hogan said that education was his “top priority,” citing his administration’s spending on schools, which he said was the highest in state history. Still, he said, he’d like to see state and individual school districts improve their spending plans and fiscal responsibility.

“The public wants better results and, for God’s sake, they want safe classrooms that are climate-controlled,” Franchot said, referring to a lack of air conditioning in some Baltimore County schools.

“I understand the input — we vote on money,” the comptroller said. “But what’s the outcome? … This is what drives our citizens crazy. They all want to support education. But what’s the result?”

“We just want schools to be built faster for less money,” Hogan said. “That’s what the public wants to see.”

Treasurer Nancy Kopp declined to get into the hostile questioning of Lever, who actually works directly for the Board of Public Works, but did say they were still waiting for a report on how Maryland could build more schools for less money.

At the beginning of the meeting, Kopp also urged the governor to fully fund the $68 million for Geographic Cost of Education Index. House Speaker Michael Busch had urged Kopp and Franchot on Monday to “step up to the plate” and ask Hogan to release the extra school funding the legislature had appropriated.

Emergency city jail contracts

The board, including Treasurer Nancy Kopp, D, also approved the following contracts with a vote of 3-0:

–A combined 14 emergency service contracts, totaling $3,478,367, connected with the closing of the Baltimore City Men’s Detention Center in July. The building’s closure relocated the 1,100 prisoners being housed there, and the emergency service contracts were for maintenance in the new locations. The detention center was the subject of a food service contract dispute earlier this year.

–A 6-month, $416,126 emergency contract, with a 3-month extension option, to the Environmental Systems Research Institute for geographic information system software. The contract appeared before the board previously, but was tabled for a later vote after Franchot and Hogan challenged the company’s relationship to former Gov. Martin O’Malley, who had a $140,000 speaking contract with ESRI after he left office. The emergency was declared on Sept. 16, as the Department of Information Technology claimed it was a vital state service.

–A contract under protest by Turlington Valuation Associations Inc. for nursing home appraisal services. The contract was granted to Page Appraisals Inc., after Turlington requested a waiver for release from its minority business enterprise requirement and was denied. This is the second contested contract approved by the board under Hogan’s administration in the face of protest. Under the eight-year O’Malley administration, the board approved 11 contracts in the face of protest, deferred one and had two contracts withdrawn.

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  • Lisa Moore

    The problem with school construction is that no one looks at the longterm demographics of the area before they start throwing the money around for a new school building. Look at Carroll County as an example and how they are now being forced to close schools due to lack of students. Politicians want to get reelected and to do this, they appease the parents in their county by getting the money for new schools without looking at the longterm. Portables are a great short term plan for many schools, but portables don’t get politicians reelected.

    • lenlazarick

      You might want to watch Kopp’s comments at the
      meeting with regard to Bethesda, where new schools have not kept up with enrollment. Carroll is an outlier in losing enrollment,
      one of only three or four in the state. None of the larger counties are losing
      school enrollment.

      • Lisa Moore

        If the long term demographics show a growing population, then by all means find a site and fund the construction. I don’t think portables are a long time solution, nor do I think that all available open space at a school site should have a portable sitting atop. I just think that some thought and moderation needs to be applied when dealing with this issue. Then there is the other issue of school expansion….they add more classrooms for more students, but they don’t enlarge the cafeteria, gym, bathrooms and other facilities needed to accommodate for more students. It’s just a vicious cycle that never ends with a ton of money at stake.

      • Jennifer Pratt-Case

        What are the other 3 school systems? Just curious.

        • lenlazarick

          I was wrong. I said three because Allegany, Garrett are most prominent in asking to be held harmless from loss of funding,and along with Kent they had the biggest percentage declines. But there are actually nine county systems that had substantial enrollment declines, the biggest in raw numbers being Baltimore City and Prince George’s. How about that?

          http://marylandpublicschools.org/adequacystudy/docs/MDEnrollmentReportFinal-071815.pdf

          • Jennifer Pratt-Case

            So defensive. Just asking a question. Things in SOMD are very different than the rest of the state. I just wanted to know if calvert county was one of the districts

          • lenlazarick

            Odd sense of what is defensive. I gave you an answer off the top of my head, and to my surprise, I was wrong. I didn’t know so many school systems had lost enrollment, and yes Calvert is one of them.

  • Jackie Roe

    Where is the slot $$$$ being spent?????

    • lenlazarick

      Here’s the latest on the slots just out today. Less than half the state gambling tax goes to education. School funding goes up every year, so that’s where slots money goes or it replaces general fund revenue.
      http://gaming.mdlottery.com/maryland-casinos-generate-94-76-million-in-revenue-during-october/

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  • J D

    Nancy Kopp is a clown who should of been not returned. Shame on the entire General Assembly for even considering returning her and keeping these proceedings a secret until the last minute. What did Nancy Kopp do that deserved her return. She has done nothing but kept on allowing construction costs go up faster then inflation. Something is rotten in Annapolis and that is Nancy Kopp and her allies. We demand she be lambasted with so many calls. Whoever is in charge of Appointments needs to be also fired. I am so sick and tired of Nancy Kopp and these Lawmakers saw their was an alternative back in January to Nancy Kopp and if I was their as one of these lawmakers I would of not of voted for Nancy Kopp. Nancy Kopp needs to resign now. If these every 4 year appointments were all out in the open like we see for Presidential Appointments then we could easily demand they vote for or against the person under consideration.

    • lenlazarick

      Nothing secret about Kopp’s selection, except secret ballot of the delegates and senators held in joint session. Here’s the story

      http://marylandreporter.com/2015/02/19/kopp-recommended-for-fourth-term-as-md-treasurer/

      • J D

        It still is pretty disappointing that she would keep returning. It also is disappointing that their isn’t organizations that criticized the state government not demanding Nancy Kopp not be returned. Besides would be nice if the media investigates Nancy Kopp more often then people can demand she answer questions or resign and let someone else take the helm who was not in office at all levels but have someone who isn’t a coward to say we can’t afford everything. Thank goodness for the Maryland Reporter.

    • ksteve

      You are pretty “brave” to be calling people names while hiding behind initials. Fortunately, you’re not one of lawmakers who were able to vote on the retention of Nancy Kopp in her appointed office.

      • J D

        She had no guts to do anything to say their isn’t money for everything the lawmakers and counties wanted.

  • Vidi

    I wonder if the State would have more money available for school construction funding if it was not hampered by the prevailing wage law. I have heard (but have no proof) that doing away with the law for school construction would save 20%. If true, imagine how many more school projects could be completed.

    • lenlazarick

      This also came up in the discussion at the board. There was a Carroll County study that showed it could save about a third. Most every year, there is legislation introduced by a Republican to remove the requirement of the “prevailing” wage, the average of construction wages heavily influenced by union scales.

      • ZL

        Prevailing wage is not the average. I’m most cases it is equal to the union scale.

  • Bridget

    The article states that Governor Hogan is spending the highest amount of money in Maryland history on education, throwing money at the problem doesn’t solve the education problems either. Parents are either there for their children and education succeeds or their not. So I get that our Comptroller is questioning rising costs for construction but take a look at the rise in funding education in general with little results. I agree with Jackie also, where the heck is the gambling money in the state going.

  • Dale McNamee

    I noticed that the Catonsville High School is being renovated for use as a school again…

    A few years ago,it was closed due to low student enrollment…

    Will student enrollment fall in the future ? Perhaps…
    How many of these “hot new schools” will be closed ?

    And will somebody explain the concept of the GCEI to me ? It sounds like a “slush” fund of sorts…

    The $68 million should be returned to the taxpayers…

    If I remember correctly, Governor O’Malley didn’t fund it …

    Hmm…

  • J D

    Audit Nancy Kopp’s office. People should question her office. She is a drunken sailor who spent too much at the Lowe’s hotel. She would not of made it as CFO for McDonalds Corp. She would of been fired.

  • Deb

    “We just want schools to be built faster for less money,” Hogan said. “That’s what the public wants to see.”

    And I want a pony.