A new study finds it will take up to about $630 million for Baltimore County to fix overcrowding in its high schools.
There are three proposals that address both crowded schools and building conditions.
The plans, presented in a power point at a public meeting Tuesday night, differ on which schools would be replaced and renovated, and how many students would be moved to relieve overcrowding. The study was done for the county by the Sage Policy Group.
Sage Chairman Anirban Basu said the study looked for ways to relieve overcrowding and fix some crummy building conditions at the same time, killing two birds with one stone if you will.
“I don’t like the notion of killing two birds because I don’t like the notion of killing birds,” Basu said. “But the point is we tried with one investment to the extent possible or one prospective investment address as many issues as possible.”
It’s estimated that in 10 years, the county will have a shortage of 1,700 seats in its high schools.
Basu's Morning Economic Report airs on WYPR and his firm is a station underwriter.
He said a survey of stakeholders showed a strong dislike for redistricting to relieve overcrowding. So the proposals also call on the strategic placement of magnet programs in less crowded schools so students might go to those schools voluntarily.
Basu said the survey is not a scientific sample. It was taken by people with a vested interest in education. Perhaps not surprisingly, the results of the survey show they care more about schools than other budget issues or their tax bill.
“And we want the county and the state to invest in our schools even if that means ultimately we have to pay more in taxes,” Basu said.
Two of the three proposals in the study call for building new high schools for Dulaney, Towson and Lansdowne. The two candidates running for county executive, Democrat Johnny Olszewski and Republican Al Redmer have both promised to build those three schools. So far they have not clearly stated how they would pay for that.
Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk said the only way the county can afford to build the three schools is either with significant spending cuts elsewhere or tax increases.
“We need to fiscally get real here,” Quirk said. “It’s tough decisions, grownup decisions are going to have to be made.”
Quirk, who is the chairman of the council’s spending and affordability committee, said the governor would need to step up as well and provide state money.
Basu is holding three public meetings on the study. The first was Tuesday night. The next meeting will be September 24 at Eastern Technical High School. The final one will be October 2 at Loch Raven High.
Basu will present the final report to the school board in the fall and promises it will be data-driven with a lot of feedback from the public.
Note: This report has been updated to note Sage Policy Group's position as an underwriter of WYPR.