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School system presents upgrade, funding wish list

January 15, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Board of Education President Bernadette Wagner said Tuesday night the school system needs about $20 million worth of upgrades and new equipment, but she wasn't sure whether the board would ask the county for the entire amount for fiscal year 2004.

School officials presented some of the school system's needs to the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Among them are new textbooks totaling $2.6 million; $5.5 million to bring the school's libraries up to state standards; $1.1 million a year for new computers; and $780,000 for new buses.

The school system would need $7.9 million for textbooks by the 2008-2009 school year, according to board documents.

Dennis McGee, director of facilities management, also requested that the County Commissioners increase the school system's Capital Improvement Plan funding from $5 million to $5.9 million for fiscal year 2004 to make up for anticipated state funding cuts.

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He said the school system may ask for $9.2 million in both the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years to keep construction projects on track.

"I think they're blowing smoke," Commissioner John C. Munson said Tuesday night. "They're going to have to consolidate and save just like everyone else, and they're not doing it."

Munson said the county is $154 million in debt and that the commissioners need to start saying no to funding requests, even for education. He said paying off the debt should be the county's top priority.

"Somebody's got to shake these people up one way or another, and I think the commissioners are the only ones who can do it," Munson said of the School Board.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said during a regular commissioners meeting on Tuesday that, in light of the economic downturn, the county might have to base its CIP allocation to the School Board on the amount of money available from the state.

For example, he said, if the state cuts capital funding, the county might also have to reduce its contribution to the School Board.

"The board has to decide to keep funding the same, decrease it or increase it," Wivell said.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan and School Board Vice President Paul Bailey said the board probably would prioritize the $20 million worth of needs.

"I don't think the board would be presenting that (to the commissioners) all in one punch," Bailey said. "I think it's a little unreasonable."

With the economic downturn, the commissioners and state officials have predicted the 2004 fiscal year will be a struggle. The state has estimated a $1.3 billion shortfall that fiscal year.

Commission President Gregory I. Snook said Tuesday night that he wants to look at the School Board's projects and requests. He said it's possible the county can put surplus money, if it's available at the end of this year, toward construction costs.

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