M.C. Keegan-Ayer expressed concern about a budget amendment from the county’s Board of Education at a County Council meeting Tuesday night.
The council president told school board Vice President Joy Schaefer, Frederick County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Paul Lebo, and FCPS’ director of capital programs, Adnan Mamoon, that she was worried that if they funded one of those amendments, its findings would be outdated by the time certain capital projects were proposed.
If corresponding capital improvement projects were funded, it would also require roughly a $91.85 million increase for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 in the county’s capital improvement project budget, according to staff reports.
One amendment proposes moving $100,000 from a Liberty Elementary Modernization/Addition Feasibility Study to fund a Brunswick Elementary Modernization Feasibility study.
The other proposes a surplus of $250,000 from the Frederick High School replacement project to fund a Facility and Program Assessment Study, focused on five elementary schools: Emmitsburg, Lewistown, Sabillasville, Thurmont and Wolfsville.
Lebo said Tuesday the study isn’t a feasibility study, but rather a look at improving the learning environment.
“Those five schools in particular are schools that do not meet our current educational specifications,” Lebo said. “A true renovation would allow [the school district] to address some of the challenges of meeting that learning environment.”
But Keegan-Ayer was concerned that the study’s findings would be outdated by the time projects for the five schools would be considered.
Schaefer said, however, that those schools require improvements and that the study would help with those.
“This will give us an opportunity to look at our most needy schools. ... I think that’s what this evaluation allows us to do, and allows us to look at more systemic renovation needs,” Schaefer said.
Keegan-Ayer said after the meeting that the county does not have the roughly $91.85 million needed as a result of that study because the five elementary schools proposed weren’t factored in to the capital improvement project budget for this fiscal year.
“I don’t want parents to think that these schools are going to be coming online any faster, because we don’t have the money to do them,” she said. “I watched over the 25-plus years as I’ve been following this, where the [Board of Education] approves something, and the parents think it’s going to come ... and then they come up here, to the county commissioners, and they said, ‘We never agreed to fund this. This is the CIP and the budget we passed.’”
Keegan-Ayer said the budget amendment concerning the feasibility study for Brunswick Elementary was OK, as county staff had planned for that project by indicating a “placeholder elementary school” project.
She said she understands why the Board of Education wants to improve five of its aging elementary schools, but budget restrictions mean that while the study can be funded, the projects themselves cannot.
“I understand conceptually why they want to get this study done now,” she said. “I’m just saying, it needed to be very clear to the public [that] we don’t have the money to fund those schools that the study might come back with ... somehow or another, something else is going to have to get bumped on the Board of Education’s [Capital Improvement Program] budget ... that’s our problem.”