Thursday, March 24, 2011

NOTICE: Board of Education Work Session on New High School, 3/28/2011

The Board of Education plans to meet for a work session March 28 to determine the future of St. Charles High School.

Construction and annual operating costs are the center of discussions among and between the Board and the Charles County Commissioners. The Commissioners have asked the Board to delay construction on the new high school to 2014, but the Board wants funding commitments before making a decision. The Board, in a March 23 meeting, told the Commissioners they are faced with three options:  build the school by the opening of the 2013 school year, delay the school opening to 2014 or stop the project.

The March 28 meeting will be the second work session in two weeks for the Board of Education, which could not get a majority vote to delay the school until 2014, but agreed to meet and outline for the Commissioners their funding concerns. On Wednesday, Board Chairman Roberta Wise summarized five issues and asked the Commissioners to consider and commit to the following:

  • yearly operating costs of $10 million;
  • payment of construction cost increases caused by delaying the school opening for one year;
  • keeping the school design intact;
  • additional funding to secure the construction site if project is delayed; and
  • assurances to pay for emergency facility repairs needed for student safety schools if the school system changes its capital improvements plan to push out all other projects for five years.
"We are here today to ask for your support. We are here today to ask you to step up as leaders and provide us with solid commitments. We are running out of time to meet the state's April 1 deadline for a timeline and plan for St. Charles High School," Wise said.

Superintendent James E. Richmond has been given an April 1 deadline to notify the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) about the school system's plans for St. Charles High School. Wise, Vice Chairman Maura Cook and Richmond accompanied Commissioner President Candice Kelly and county staff to a meeting with David Lever, IAC director, to alert the state of a possible construction delay. The IAC must determine what it will do with funds approved and partially expended this year as well as with additional funding recently approved for the new high school. The state Board of Public Works approved the Board of Education's request for construction of St. Charles High School in 2010. The Board, in October 2009, voted 5-2 to proceed with a request to the state to build the new high school that the school system originally proposed to open in 2011.

Following the Board of Education's 2009 vote, the former board of Charles County Commissioners committed a $10 million, one-time funding payment to Charles County Public Schools to help operating costs for the new high school. The $10 million would be funded from the county's Developers' Rights and Responsibilities Account (DRRA). The new board of County Commissioners recently informed the Board of Education that due to the recession, the expected developer payments to the DRRA never materialized and the money is not available.

"We need this high school. We also need the money to operate it and provide the same educational program available now. To open this school without additional funds would impact the educational program, class size and our ability to move public education forward," Wise told the Commissioners.

On Wednesday, the Commissioners agreed to one point; there are no plans to redesign the school to compensate for construction cost increases caused by delaying the project. The Commissioners also expressed their commitment to building the school, but stopped short of promising operating costs or other funding. Commissioner President Candice Kelly said it would be easy to generate another promise of funding, but the reality is that the county's financial future is uncertain. She said the Commissioners are optimistic that the economy is rebounding and asked the Board to work with them new high school funding issues.

The Board of Education's March 28 work session is at 6 p.m. at the Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building. The meeting is public and will be broadcast live on Comcast Channel 96 and Verizon FiOS Channel 12. The meeting is also aired live on the school system's Web site at

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