ANNAPOLIS — A work group created to assess school construction projects in Maryland hammered out potential solutions Monday in the state capitol.
Those recommendations include addressing schools with heating, air conditioning and ventilation system problems, incorporating a $14 million statewide measurement and verification program to monitor up-to-date status on facilities, and placing a higher priority on portable classrooms.
Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-District 23A) of Bowie asked about education efficiency when it comes to technology.
“We’ve got some historical disparities where we have pockets of poor jurisdictions and pockets of poverty … that even if you have broadband, there’s not the affordability for anybody to bring in their own equipment if the school’s not supplying it,” she said after the more than two-hour discussion. “If you don’t have what you need to plug into the broadband, you can’t continue to learn.”
The body, formally named “Workgroup on the Assessment and Funding of School Facilities,” received no specific recommendations on technology for a variety of reasons.
Bob Gorrell, executive director of the state’s public school construction program, said trying to assess wireless access points and sufficient broadband in every school can become “complex” and may require a contractor to conduct the work.
State Superintendent Karen Salmon, who chairs the committee, said local school systems analyze what type of technology would be required in its schools. She said about 99.8 percent of students in grades three through eight have access to technology to conduct standardized tests.
“I don’t think that is part of [technology] equipment,” she said. “If we start putting that idea in, we are going to have a very hard time measuring what’s equitable across the state.”
Another discussed recommendation focused on definitions from the National Council on School Facilities, which focuses on six categories: planning, acquisition, alteration, nonpermanent addition, maintenance and operations.
One of the main goals would be to classify expenditures and budgeting on construction projects to provide “better analysis and reporting of facilities costs.”
However, the state would need to replace its current financial data system which cannot accommodate further modifications, according to a draft plan.
“I would not want that recommendation [because] we are in the process of getting a grant to do upgrades on our financial system,” Salmon said. “I don’t really believe its within the purview of this subgroup to make that recommendation.”
State Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) the definitions may be necessary because of ongoing conversations on public-private partnerships (P3). Prince George’s County already plans to use the P3 model to build several new schools.
For instance, construction of a replacement building would “include all steps from planning to occupancy that are necessary to achieve a facility that has an initial lifespan of 30 or more years before comprehensive renewal would be required to gain back the learning and operational advantages.”
Gorrell said P3 stills has some unfamiliarity because of the complexity of contracts between a private business and school system, also called a local education agency (LEA).
“So when we get into those contracts, they are defined with something that can be repeated over time,” he said. “By using these same measurements, we would be able to compare how an LEA that’s not using a P3 compares to another LEA that is even on a project-by-project basis.”
A final report on the proposed recommendations would be completed by Dec. 1 and incorporate as possible policies to incorporate when the Maryland General Assembly convenes Jan. 8.