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School Board to county

state funds going begging

September 14, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Board of Education reiterated Tuesday that the County Commissioners are not pursuing millions of dollars available for building, repairing and renovating its schools.

The state distributes about $250 million a year through its public school construction program. To get a slice of the pie, each county must chip in a local share.

The School Board wants to ask for $6.2 million but it can't because the commissioners say they can't afford the local share of 35 percent or about $2.2 million. The board pressed for more money again during a hearing on the capital improvement plan Tuesday.

"We need to be building three schools every two years instead of building two schools every three years," said Dennis McGee, the School Board's director of facilities management.

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Other than staff and board members, three people showed up for the hearing at the board's Central Office, and at least two were members of the board's Budget Advocacy and Review Committee.

Gov. Parris Glendening budgeted $250 million for the school construction program last year, this year and next year, according to McGee. The board wants the county to grab the money while it's available.

"There's no real guarantee that we're going to continue to get this kind of support from the state," said Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

McGee said that because Washington County represents 2.5 percent of the state's population, it is entitled to $6.2 million. The county is not getting a fair share, he said.

For example, Frederick County requested $35 million last year and received $12 million, McGee said.

"Last year, we asked for $3.75 million and received it, pretty much unquestioned," he said. This year, the county is asking for about $4 million for fiscal year 2002, which begins July 1, 2001. McGee said the request is too small and leaves money on the table.

Each project requires a three-year phase. The state approves money for planning and design in the first year. The funding comes in the second year but construction does not begin until the third year.

Large projects such as South Hagerstown High School's renovation absorb more than one year of funding at the current level. The School Board's CIP therefore has gaps between projects.

"We don't have enough money to begin another funding cycle," McGee said. The state's school construction funds are taxpayer funds, he said. "It is a matter of trying to get it back to the county."

Increasing the CIP's funds would allow the School Board to accelerate renovation of Salem Avenue, Maugansville and Bester elementary schools. Salem Avenue's renovation is scheduled to begin in 2003.

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