In a recent letter to Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback, County Executive David Craig underscored his support for replacing Havre de Grace High School and issued a sharp reminder about the county executive’s power over the school system’s capital budget.
But two weeks after his June 22nd letter, Craig’s push for a new Havre de Grace High appeared to go unheeded by Tomback, who on July 9th presented the school board with a capital budget proposal for next year that did not include funding for Havre de Grace High, or any other major projects, in keeping with the school board’s decision to put all such projects on hold pending the outcome of a countywide analysis of school facilities. The comprehensive study was initiated by Harford County government and is expected to take a year or more to complete.
Craig also sent each member of the school board a copy of the letter, which spelled out the county executive’s authority to amend the schools’ capital budget request by citing the county charter:
“As you prepare to adopt your proposed request I feel that it is important for you to know what I support. This is necessary for each of you because of the quote that follows. The Harford County charter sets the guidelines and rules for the adoption of the operating and capital budgets. Here is the key part:
Section 505. FORMULATION OF CAPITAL BUDGET AND CAPITAL PROGRAM. At such time as the County Executive may direct, each agency which receives [or] disburses County funds shall submit to the County Executive an itemized list of the capital projects which each agency proposes to undertake in the ensuing fiscal year and the next succeeding five fiscal years thereafter. The County Executive may amend the capital budget and capital program proposals…”
While not noted in Craig’s letter, county funding for capital projects is subject to final approval by the county council.
Craig’s letter goes on to say that he “strongly” supports the school board’s identified priorities, namely new facilities for Youth’s Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School in Abingdon, and Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air. Craig also suggests combining two projects into a single construction contract, starting with Havre de Grace High and Youth’s Benefit Elementary, followed by the other two schools two years later.
Craig also concedes that the high school identified for modernization in the school board’s long term capital plans, Joppatowne High, “may need improvement”, but he leaves little doubt regarding his top priority: “I most strongly support, however, a new Havre de Grace High School.”
While the school board has not requested a replacement for Havre de Grace High, the school system has undertaken a scope study, with funding initially proposed by Craig, to explore the options for upgrading the school. The results of the study have not been presented to the school board, but in his letter, Craig backs the option of a new building, saying the lack of new schools in Havre de Grace is not equitable for taxpayers in the city where he still resides and once served as mayor. Craig writes:
“I have seen the various options which include “limited renovation” and modernization. I believe Option D “New Building” is the best one and one I will be willing to fund in FY14.
The Havre de Grace area has over 7300 households and 19,900 residents. Over 1000 students are in the three feeder elementary schools. Yet the people of this area have not received a new school since 1967 when the Havre de Grace Middle School was built. They have paid the taxes for almost 25 new buildings and have received nothing for their children. That is not equitable. This needs to change.”
Craig goes on say that Havre de Grace High should also have a signature or magnet program, invoking the names of prominent alumni to make the case that the school deserves such programs.
“The quality of the education has been great. It has been named a National School of Excellence. In the three branches of local government the leaders of all three are graduates of HHS (Judge William O. Carr – Chief Circuit Court Judge, State Senator Barry Glassman and myself County Executive). Yet it has received no signature programs or magnet programs. This too, needs to change.”
In closing, Craig proposes a meeting with school board members on the matter, but Board President Leonard Wheeler declined to say whether board members would agree to such a meeting, saying through a spokesperson on July 11th that “the Board does not wish to comment on the meeting that the County Executive has requested.”
Asked for a response to Craig’s letter from Superintendent Tomback and Board President Leonard Wheeler, Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for HCPS, provided the following:
“The FY14 Capital Improvement Plan is currently under consideration; any comment at this time, by the Board of Education or the Superintendent, would be premature.”
Sources say that behind the scenes, opinions from board members are mixed over whether to stick with the decision to put all major projects on hold until the countywide study is complete. When reached for comment, Board Vice-President Rick Grambo told The Dagger that he might consider a major project, with some caveats. “I may support a new school construction project if the request comes from the School Superintendent’s office. There would still be a lot of questions to ask and I would be somewhat skeptical of a request for any new school that was not on the previous CIP [Capital Improvement Program] lists”, Grambo said.
Adding to the uncertainty, Governor Martin O’Malley has yet to fill the school board vacancy created by the January resignation of Havre de Grace businessman Ron Browning, leaving the board with eight members instead of nine, plus a student representative who has limited voting rights.
Whether or not the vacancy is filled, the board faces a deadline of October 15th to submit projects to be considered for state funding for the fiscal year 2014. The next school board meeting is scheduled for August 13th, with a board vote on the capital budget expected at a meeting in September.
Below is the June 22, 2012 letter from County Executive David Craig to Harford Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback.