Digital Harbor is an example of what is possible for all of Baltimore City!
For years, Southern High School was on a downward trend - the building was falling apart, student achievement was low, and enrollment was dwindling. Since it's full renovation and transformation a high tech program in 2002 - now called Digital Harbor High School - it has become among the top choices for Baltimore City high school students.
The renovation cost $50 million but the City Schools only has about $60 million in capital dollars from the State and City's school construction program. So, how can Baltimore's schools be rebuilt and renovated on a citywide scale? It is clear that the State and City's traditional funding system for school construction and infrastructure repairs will never lead to new and fully renovated, 21st century school buildings to support excellent academic programs. However, there are innovative and bold approaches that have been successful in other districts in the country.
Leveraging Funds Upfront to Build Schools Now!
In the 2010 ACLU study "Buildings for Academic Excellence," a variety of financing models and solutions used for school construction throughout the country were examined including the leveraging model utilized in Greenville, South Carolina. (Watch the Greenville, South Carolina bond attorney explain the basics of the financing model here.) By providing the SAME amount of school constructon funding predictably and flexibly each year, the City and the State can allow a third party entity such as a school construction authority to borrow construction funding today to complete $1 billion in desperately needed school renovations and rebuilding. The construction authority would then use the funding stream provided by the City and the State to pay for the new construction over 25 or 30 years. This is similar to how individuals buy homes by utilizing a mortgage, except in the case of school buildings, the title and rights to use the buidlings will always stay with the school system.
Why would we want to finance the building of new and renovated schools this way?
Currently, the estimated need for school construction in Baltimore City is $2.4 billion compared to a yearly school construction allocation from all State and Local sources of between $60-70 million. Additionally, each year new school construction needs ariise as buildings continue to deteriorate and the costs of construction rise as prices of materials and labor increase over time. This means, that without a large, upfront investment in City Schools, the need continues to grow much faster than the available funding. The current system requires City Schools to spend their money each year on individual projects approved by the Interagency on Committee on School Public Construction. These projects generally consist of smaller problem areas within outdated and deteriorating buildings such as replacing broken or missing windows, resurfacing a leaky roof, or installing a new heating unit. This is in sharp contrast to many of the other jurisdictions in the State of Maryland that regularly include wholesale renovations and new buildings as part of their approved school construction plan.