Washington County schools may get state windfall

February 24, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County schools could benefit from a plan to appease areas throughout the state in exchange for a $254 million Baltimore City schools deal.

But before area residents count on extra state dollars for textbooks, teachers and school construction, some local lawmakers warn the county could be squeezed out in a plan that is being brokered by the state's six largest jurisdictions.

"Obviously, as not one of the big six counties, I'm real concerned," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.


Baltimore is slated to receive $254 million over five years as part of a settlement of three lawsuits brought against the state to seek additional funding for the city's school systems.

In a backlash to the agreement, which is subject to General Assembly approval, the state's largest counties proposed last week a new school funding formula, as well as an agreement on how to spend $66 million in school construction funds that have yet to be allocated.

"That came as news to me," said Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "They certainly didn't consult any smaller counties."

But he said the fallout could have a positive impact on Washington County, which has appealed for state funds to pay for the renovation of South Hagerstown High School and other projects.

"I think if this deal is struck, there is going to have to be something in it for Washington County in terms of school construction," Munson said.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said Thursday that any deal to give extra money to the largest counties would have to include additional funding for the state's smaller jurisdictions.

"I don't think they (the large jurisdictions) are going to get the money without the other 13 or 14 jurisdictions being at the table also," said Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat.

Last Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee looked into a plan that would distribute an extra $67 million to school systems other than Baltimore City, based on the number of children receiving free and reduced-cost lunches in the districts.

"Yes, Baltimore City has problems, but Baltimore City does not have a monopoly on kids in poverty," said Del. Bob McKee, R-Washington, who serves on the committee.

That plan, which does not specify where the money would come from, could mean an additional $2.3 million for county schools next year and nearly $4 million the following year.

"It could be (good news), because it's over and above what we are already getting," McKee said.

About half of the county Board of Education's $96.6 million budget comes from state funding. Schools Superintendent Wayne Gersen said he has budgeted for that amount to increase to $50.4 million next year.

Gersen said that although he would welcome any additional funding, he isn't counting on more money yet, especially given the state's budget constraints.

"I guess I'm extremely pessimistic that the state would allow that to happen," he said.

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