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Schools mull bond authority

August 20, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education said Tuesday it will discuss at a special work session a proposal that the board ask the legislature to give it the authority to issue bonds.

William Blum, Washington County Public Schools' chief operating officer, asked the School Board to consider seeking the authority to issue bonds. He said the school system has a backlog of schools that need renovations and improvements but does not have the funds to complete those projects in a timely manner.

School board members decided to discuss the matter at a special work session in September after agreeing they did not have enough knowledge on the subject to vote.

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Blum said getting $25 million in bond money would help the school system speed up construction projects without relying on state and county aid.

Blum suggested the School Board seek $25 million in serial revenue bonds that would mature over 25 years. He said the board could pay back $1.7 million a year, perhaps with help from the Washington County Commissioners.

The School Board agreed over the summer to increase the Capital Improvement Plan budget request beginning next fiscal year, asking the county commissioners for $9.2 million for each of the next two fiscal years. That amount is $4.2 million more than the amount of CIP funds the school system received this year.

School Board Member W. Edward Forrest questioned whether the commissioners would be willing to budget an additional $1.7 million.

Blum told School Board members they should trust him as someone with financial savvy "to technically get this going."

He said he would hire a financial adviser if the board decided to pursue its own bond issuance authority.

"This board is very receptive to change, but this is a huge proposal for a 20-minute agenda item," Forrest said.

School Board members agreed they would have to spend time discussing the matter in a work session before they could ask other government officials for support.

"There's so much about this that I don't understand," School Board President Bernadette M. Wagner said. "I think we need to think more clearly before getting into this. I can't even come up with any questions."

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said many school systems in New York issue bonds to obtain revenue. Blum said Baltimore City public schools use bonds to bring in additional money.

"It'll take money to save money," Morgan said.

The School Board will discuss the bond suggestion as a work session Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 1 p.m. in the board conference room.

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