North East High Scores Budget Touchdown Against Cecil County Commish
A concerted campaign by parents, teachers and students at North East High School scored a touchdown Tuesday when the Cecil County Commissioners threw in the flag on a contested play and agreed to pay for new metal bleachers to replaced rickety, splintery wooden seats at the school’s athletic field.
After hearing from a long line of parents, current and former students and the school’s band director, the Commissioners onTuesday agreed unanimously to allow cost-savings by the county school system on other projects to be applied to the bleachers replacement. Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4), who previously indicated reluctance to go along with the project, said she had been misunderstood and had been lobbied recently on the matter by her brother, whose child attends the school.
The commissioners had previously killed a request by the county’s public schools to replace the bleachers—the last wooden athletic stands in the county—as part of the Fiscal 2013 capital improvement budget. (Multiple construction projects were put on hold as part of the Commissioners’ budget-cutting efforts that resulted in a “happy meal” property tax cut of a half-cent on the tax rate, providing most homeowners the equivalent of a fast-food lunch on their annual tax bill.)
But the county schools recently surprised the commissioners by coming up with cost-savings on several other previously approved school construction and renovation projects.
Dr. D’Ette Devine, the schools superintendent, and Tom Kappra, the chief financial officer for the schools, explained that close supervision of construction and renovation projects at the Calvert, Leeds and Thomson Estates schools—as well as a commissioner-mandated delay of planning work on a long-stalled new vo-tech school– saved nearly $1.65 million from the projected costs of the construction and renovation projects.
The schools then asked to apply just $340,000 of the savings to begin planning for reconstruction of the aging Perryville elementary school (a long delayed project that the Commissioners pulled out of the capital improvement budget for Fiscal 2013) and $480,000 to re-construct the North East High bleachers and support systems.
During the “citizens corner” public comment period before Tuesday afternoon’s County Commissioners’ meeting, a long line of North East High supporters pleaded to replace the school’s antiquated wooden bleachers.
Perhaps the most effective speaker was Drew Keim, the North East High band director, who explained that the school’s multiple award-winning band had to host a regional competition at Bohemia Manor High in Chesapeake City. Despite North East’s long legacy of awards in band competitions, the school could not host a meet at home because of the inadequate facilities at North East.
“I implore you,” he asked the commissioners, to improve the bleachers. He also observed that the county schools had been “making wine out of water” and were careful stewards of county funds, despite facing repeated budget cuts.
Commissioner Broomell declared, at a morning worksession as well as during the citizens’ comment meeting, that her brother had called her to complain that she should support the bleachers and gave her a hard time about reports of her past comments that indicated she wanted to consider giving the cost-savings achieved by the public schools to Cecil College.
[See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/06/cecil-county-schools-save-1-6-million-on-construction-ask-to-put-savings-to-projects-cut-by-commish/ ]
Broomell, whose niece attends the school, said she had encouraged parents to create a non-profit ‘booster club’ so that it might apply for local impact aid from revenues provided by the Hollywood casino in Perryville. However, she said her initial comments were motivated by a desire for “more information” on legal requirements for usage of cost-savings by the schools on other construction projects. She sought to blame unnamed county officials or employees for not making it clearer on the options available.
Ultimately, Broomell said she would support the bleachers project—as well as the partial funding of preliminary planning for renovation of Perryville elementary school—and voted with a unanimous majority of the commissioners on a budget amendment to achieve that objective.