School board cautious about increased funding

April 12, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

While some state lawmakers are applauding their own efforts to pass a plan that increases education funding by $1.3 billion over the next six years, the Washington County Board of Education is taking a cautious approach.

Local school officials say they're not counting on the increase to be long-term.

"I'm not believing it's an absolute done deal," Interim Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said. "I don't think anything's guaranteed right now. I would trust it as one-time money."

School Board member Roxanne Ober said the state was not specific about whether the money will be available in the future, which is a "big disappointment."


Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, who played a key role in the plan's passage, called the School Board's statements foolish and suggested members probably hadn't read the bill.

"That's not true at all," Hoffman said. "It's in the bill. One shouldn't comment on legislation without reading it."

Morgan and Ober said they've heard from state and school officials, who said the funding increases were not certain.

"If she (Hoffman) knows something I don't, that's wonderful," Morgan said.

Hoffman said Washington County's public schools are guaranteed to receive a minimum of nearly $12 million by 2007-2008 and should receive as much as $23.1 million in state funding by then.

The Maryland General Assembly last week voted to increase the cigarette tax by 34 cents a pack to pay for the first two years of the plan, but the bill leaves out details on future funding, Morgan and Ober said.

Under the bill, Washington County is to receive $1.2 million in fiscal 2003; $3.4 million in 2004; $6.9 million in 2005; $12.4 million in 2006; $17.7 million in 2007; and $23.1 million 2008.

In addition to money from the cigarette tax, the school system will receive money through a disparity grant for being among the state's poorer counties. Hoffman said the county is set to receive $876,584 from that grant, bringing the total state increase for 2003 to about $2.1 million.

Morgan said the increase is outside of maintenance of effort for at least the first two years, which means the state is not required to fund the same increase next year.

Without that guarantee, Morgan said it doesn't make much sense to put the increase toward items such as teacher salaries that require the same level or additional funding.

Hoffman, however, said only the grant money is outside of maintenance of effort and that the money from the cigarette tax will become part of maintenance of effort, therefore making it part of the school system's general fund, during the first year.

Morgan said that while she's grateful for the increase next year, she won't be ready to celebrate until the future increases are guaranteed.

Hoffman said Washington County school officials' statements are negative and not based on facts.

"They need to chill out," Hoffman said.

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