State unsure where to place resources for BRAC population explosion

Local,Jason Flanagan
If they come, the state is ready to build schools, but where remains a tough question when trying to guess where thousands of new residents will live after their military bases close and they relocate to Maryland for employment.

“We’ve done a lot of pre-planning … but with very imprecise numbers, my concern is that we won’t know how many students we’ll have until they show up,” said state Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, who addressed the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Base Realignment and Closure at Cecil Community College Monday.

BRAC is expected to bring 7,000 new jobs at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford, and 5,000 new jobs at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel by 2011.

All of the jobs are coming in from other states like New Jersey, Virginia and Texas, and most of the employees have not decided if they will move to Maryland, or where – leaving local education officials wondering where the resources will be needed.

“The logical place would seem near the installation, but for all we know they could live in Pennsylvania,” said Jacqueline Gaas, superintendent of Harford public schools. “We’re certainly facing some great challenges, but we’ve already committed resources even as we wait for the numbers.”

Unpredictability is common with BRAC, said Sen. Roy Dyson, D-Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s, chairman of the BRAC committee. When the Patuxent River Naval Air Station expanded in his district during a past BRAC influx, Dyson said there was no plan in place, and the population figures were way off the mark.

“We didn’t know what to do,” Dyson said. “But we’re smarter now in that we are prepared ahead of time … and education is the No. 1 issue we’re facing.”

Grasmick and other education officials appeared confident that the school system would have the resources it needed, even as the state and national financial situation appears bleak.

However, when Sen. Doug Peters, D-Bowie, asked how much the state will need to pay for BRAC expansions, no solid answer was provided, as the funding amount was considered a “moving target.”

As for whether the approval of slot machines will help fund the BRAC school expansion, Grasmick said it would “hopefully be helpful,” though she said the allocation is up to lawmakers.

Dyson, an opponent to slot machines, was more skeptical about the potential slots revenue immediately affecting BRAC educational funding.

“If approved, the money’s not going to come overnight,” Dyson said. “And it’s not going to be the end-all for our budget problems today.”
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