You don’t have to attend too many budget hearings or council meetings before you recognize the ceaseless cries of “The county needs to live within its means.” The howls come from a relatively small group who vocally demand that the county cut “out of control” spending. It’s like reciting lines from a bad movie you’ve seen many times but just can’t resist watching when it’s on TV.
Yawn. Until those demanding “fiscal conservatism” roll up their sleeves, start reading the financial documents, and cite specifics, these are just opinions. And you can’t effectively run a business, a county government, or a school system on opinions.
But we do agree on one point
Imagine how shocked I was to realize I agree with them on one point: Cecil County hasn’t been living within its means. For too long the county has been neglecting some of its obligations because it couldn’t figure out how to cover all of its expenses. Adequate schools, well-maintained roads, and properly equipped emergency services aren’t extravagances, they are the cost of living in modern society.
During the FY16 budget season, there was hot debate over necessities: replacement AEDs OR emergency communications systems OR long neglected capital projects at county schools.
We aren’t choosing toppings for a pizza–it shouldn’t be an either/or decision. In many cases ALL the requests are necessary.
At different points in that budget cycle, both (former) County Executive Tari Moore and (current) Council Member Alan McCarthy remarked that Cecil County needs to start addressing mandates that aren’t currently being met regarding emergency radio communications (deficiencies in that system made the news again that spring), water treatment, and school services.
How does CCPS determine facilities needs?
“…strong interest in the proper maintenance of Maryland’s public school facilities. For all types of facilities, the useful life of the structure is greatly extended through a preventive maintenance program that protects the asset and corrective maintenance activities that address emergent deficiencies. Good maintenance defers the need for repairs and major renovation, and reduces the cost of renovation when it is eventually needed. Regular maintenance ensures that the operation of the building, including its energy efficiency, will remain optimal even under adverse weather conditions. For schools in particular, good maintenance helps to protect the health of young students and establishes an environment in which the focus of administrators, teachers, and the students themselves can remain on learning, rather than on the building. “ PSCP Annual Report
What are “Deferred Maintenance” Projects?
“Five schools were inspected in January 2014. Original existing square footage at these schools dates from 1937 to 2005, with adjusted building ages ranging from 47 to 11 years at the time of inspection. All of the inspected schools were first constructed before 1980 and have received various additions and renovations. The survey results demonstrate the good maintenance practices and outstanding custodial care that the IAC has come to expect in Cecil County. The school receiving the lowest score and having the oldest adjusted age, the Cecil School of Technology, is scheduled to have its program moved in Fall 2015 to a newly renovated facility in Elkton, Maryland. This is significant because of the innovative approach CCPS took to meet their need for an expanded career and technology program: rather than building a new facility or renovating the existing school, they purchased and renovated a commercial research and development facility that came with a high-bay area, advanced science laboratories, conference space, and a sophisticated electrical system. The entire project cost considerably less than a replacement school. Sited in an industrial park, the building will facilitate alignments between the educational programs and industry sponsors.”
Small Capital Budget Requests Have Gone Unfunded
Now that we have some background on maintenance and capital improvements, let’s talk about the history of a few of the projects in the capital budget request.
The school system’s capital request is divided into the following categories:
- Large capital projects which are funded jointly by the state and county
- Small capital projects which are the responsibility of the county
Since the state provides roughly 60% of the funding for large capital projects, let’s focus on the small capital projects.
A Grand Slam of Dilapidated Tennis Courts
During the discussions for the FY 2016 Cecil County Budget, the sad state of the tennis courts at three high schools was a frequent topic. The CCPS budget request included $375,000 for the replacement of tennis courts at Rising Sun, Elkton, and North East High Schools. But these projects shouldn’t have been news to anyone following county budgets because tennis courts have been a part of the request for several years:
Rising Sun High School tennis courtsFunded in FY17 budget Requested since 2013. The FY 2017 request will be its 5th year on the list.
- North East High School tennis courts
- Requested since 2014
- Elkton High School tennis courts
- Requested since 2014. Not included in FY 2017 request.
Replacement of the tennis courts at Perryville High School are included in the FY 2017 request and were in the request in FY 2015.
That means tennis courts at four of the county’s five high schools need to be replaced. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that CCPS may find some economies of scale in replacing them all at once.
Cecil Manor Elementary School Needs to be Connected to Municipal Water
Long and Bumpy Roads
Cecil County, the Schools are YOUR Responsibility
Tell the County You Support Adequate Capital Funding in the FY 2018 Cecil County Budget
New Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy is now working with his team to draft the budget that he will send to the County Council in on March 31. Once the County Council receives the budget, they can either approve it as proposed or cut from it. The council can’t add to the budget so we need to voice our expectations NOW.
How can you advocate for public education in Cecil County?
There are several ways:
- Attend the County Executive’s town hall on Wednesday at 6 PM
- Email County Executive Alan McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org & Director of Administration Al Wein at email@example.com
- Call the County Executive at (410) 996-5203 or Mr. Wein at (410) 996-8300
If snail mail is your thing, you can send that to the County Administration Building at 200 Chesapeake Blvd., Suite 2110, Elkton, MD 21921
No matter which method of communication you prefer, show your support for adequate public education funding in Cecil County.