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Officials pleased with funding for Hagerstown education center

April 10, 2002|BY SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The best news from this year's Maryland General Assembly session was that the Hagerstown education center was not cut from the state budget, Washington County Commissioners Vice President Paul L. Swartz and Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said Tuesday.

The $716 million capital budget passed by the General Assembly Monday included $12.4 million for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

With a tight budget year, it was not definite the money would be there, Swartz and Breichner said.

"There's always a doubt in your mind until the vote is taken," Swartz said. "I was concerned it may not survive this session. This is a long awaited and much needed project."

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"We were confident we were going to get it," Breichner said. "But we were holding our breath. And now we can breathe a lot easier."

Getting funding for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center was the top priority for the city and county government for this year's session.

Approval will enable the University System to begin renovating the Baldwin House complex this summer. If all goes as planned, the first classes would be held there in January 2004.

Swartz and Breichner said they shared a major disappointment: Four nonprofit groups - the American Red Cross of Washington County, Associated Builders and Contractors of the Cumberland Valley, Girls Inc. of Washington County, and the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County - did not receive any of the money requested.

Lawmakers cut $15 million for grants to local nonprofits, including $750,000 for Washington County, but agreed to give them special consideration next year.

Swartz said he was pleased more education money was added to the state budget.

The Washington County Board of Education will get an extra $2.2 million from the state in the 2003 budget year. Of that, $1.2 million would come from a cigarette tax increase and the rest from an increase in a grant the county receives for being among the poorer counties.

To win passage of the plan, lawmakers tinkered with recommendations made by the Thornton Commission, which studied how to adequately and equitably distribute the state's education money.

The School Board supported the Thornton Commission recommendation for an extra $38 million increase to Washington County Public Schools by 2007.

"I do not think it goes far enough," School Board member Roxanne R. Ober said of the $2.2 million increase. "But it is a beginning."

"The education budget should have received more funding," agreed Board member Bernadette Wagner.

County Commissioner John L. Schnebly praised lawmakers for providing money for the education center and for schools.

"The General Assembly's focus on education is a great relief to me as a local legislator, a local commissioner," Schnebly said.

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