In a surprise reversal of priorities for new school construction, Harford County Executive David Craig and Board of Education President Patrick Hess are expected to announce tonight that the new Red Pump Elementary School on Vale Road will be delayed due to funding, but plans for the new Schucks Road Elementary School will move ahead.
Prior to the planned announcement, Red Pump Elementary was the school system’s top priority for new elementary school construction.
Sources tell The Dagger the Harford County Council has questioned the move, since Schucks Road Elementary is outside the development envelope and is not expected to have access to public water and sewer, while Red Pump is expected to have access at a future date.
Questions have also been raised as to whether the change in prioritization could be an effort to avoid controversial redistricting decisions.
When reached for comment, County Councilman Richard Slutzky, who represents the Aberdeen and Churchville District E and is Education Liaison to the Board of Education, said delaying the Schucks Road school would have been more appropriate due to traffic and other issues at that site, including the lack of access to public water and sewer.
Slutzky also noted Red Pump Elementary already had a completed design, which would require adjustments to fit the Schucks Road property.
Here’s the official county press release:
(Bel Air, MD – December 9, 2008) – – Harford County Executive David R. Craig Monday evening appeared before the Board of Education of Harford County and formally requested the Board delay further work and construction on the Red Pump Elementary School. The county executive was joined in his recommendation by Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Jacqueline C. Haas and President of the Board of Education Patrick Hess.
Prior to the Board meeting, County Executive Craig, Superintendent Haas and President Hess held a press conference outlining their rationale for suspending the school project.
“Since taking office in 2005, I have demonstrated my commitment to education and unprecedented support of the school system’s Capital Improvement Program,” County Executive Craig stated. “This year alone, the County Executive and County Council have committed more than $120 million to fund capital projects of the school system,” Craig remarked.
One of the previous priorities for Harford County Public Schools and Harford County Government was the construction of two new elementary schools; one north of Bel Air and a second in the vicinity of Schucks Road and MD RT 22 near Campus Hills. However, recently released school enrollment data for the 2008 – 2009 school year, revealed a sharp drop system-wide in elementary school enrollment. Specifically, elementary student enrollment declined by more than 850 students this year.
Early last week, Superintendent Haas and President Hess met with County Executive Craig and advised that due to declining enrollment and system-wide balancing enrollment next year, there was no need for the county to fund construction of two elementary schools. School officials also recommended the county suspend construction of the proposed Red Pump Elementary School and move forward instead with an elementary school in the Campus Hills area.
Commenting on the recommendation, Dr. Haas stated, “Three main factors remain at the forefront of our decision to make this recommendation to the Board – declining elementary enrollment, the close proximity of the Schucks Road property to the epicenter of our capacity issues, and the downturn in the fiscal resources at the state and county.”
President of the Board, Patrick Hess added, “With the September 30 enrollments showing a decline and the poor shape of the economy, it is the fiscally responsible decision to make at this time.”
During the Board’s business meeting Monday evening, the board members unanimously approved the request of County Executive Craig and the recommendation from Superintendent Haas and President Hess to defer the Red Pump Road Elementary School project indefinitely. The school system will continue to hold a place in the annual Capital Improvement Program for construction of the school, but will not proceed at this time.
Commenting on the Board’s decision, County Executive Craig remarked, “I appreciate the support of Dr. Haas, President Hess and the Board of Education to suspend this school project. Clearly it is not in the best interest of Harford County, particularly our taxpayers, to fund construction of a school which would be underutilized due to declining enrollment,” Craig stated.