Supporters of a new Severna Park High School (SPHS) dominated the first public hearing for the county's budget for fiscal year 2013, which starts July 1.
At one point during Wednesday’s budget hearing in the Anne Arundel County Council’s chambers, a Severna Park mother asked the audience to stand if they were in favor of a new high school. Nearly everyone in the room got out of their chairs and applauded together.
“Okay, so just about everyone in the room,” said Councilman Dick Ladd (R-5th District).
For many, ensuring county funding for a replacement to SPHS would be the fulfillment of a promise not kept during last year’s budget season. During the final hours of budget deliberations in May 2011, funding for the project was cut out of the budget and delayed for a year. At the time, Ladd said politics had interfered with the school’s construction being approved.
This year though, things are looking up. The first stage of replacing SPHS is included within County Executive John R. Leopold’s proposed budget, represented by $5.7 million in funding of a total estimated $106 million project cost. The County Council is scheduled to vote on that budget later this month.
Though the school system’s budget comprises just over half of the total $1.2 billion proposed fiscal year 2013 budget, nearly all of the discussion during Wednesday’s budget hearing revolved around the needs of county schools.
Richard Benford, vice president of the teacher’s association of Anne Arundel County, took the county government to task for the budget deliberations so far, criticizing Leopold for what he characterized as shortchanging students by $12 million in the maintenance of effort last year.
“I’ve been a teacher for 19 years and I must say that I have never seen a process as disorganized as it appears to be this year,” Benford said. “It appears to go from silly to sillier.”
Katherine Bain, a Severna Park mother representing a large group, delivered a petition with more than 1,200 signatures in favor of a replacement for SPHS. She urged the crowd to show their support and was applauded in return.
Debbie Young, of Shipley’s Choice, said she moved to her community for quality schools. But when she saw SPHS for the first time, she said she was shocked by its condition. She said she couldn’t believe that was why she moved and was in disbelief that she and others had to argue their case for a new high school before the council.
“The kids and teachers have their facility and building conditions working against them every day,” Young said. “They are doing well despite the conditions. But imagine how much better prepared they could be for college and careers with the improvements that have been proposed.”
Aidan and Colin Griffin, twins who attend Bates Middle School in Annapolis, spoke about the renovation needs at their school. Colin said he couldn’t drink the water from fountains for fear of contamination from the pipes, and Aidan said the bathrooms were in poor condition.
“The bathrooms are very bad. They have no exhaust fans so they start to smell during the day,” Aidan Griffin said.
Severna Park parent Jodi Simpkins said the council can’t keep putting off the needed work at SPHS.
“Some say you should fund faster, cheaper elementary schools first, because they can impact more families faster. However, the old, decrepit high schools which are too costly to fix will simply sit and fester in that way,” Simpkins said.
Ladd referenced a recent report by U.S. News that ranked SPHS and Broadneck High School as some of the top schools in Maryland and the nation.
“Notwithstanding the crowding, and the problems getting the money allocated … the Board of Education does get results,” Ladd said. “Sometimes these decisions get tough, but the results can be seen right here.”
The first budget hearing ended after only 14 testimonies. A much larger crowd is expected at Monday night’s hearing at Old Mill High School, scheduled for 7 p.m., county officials said.