Schools officials seek support from Chamber

October 09, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

Washington County Public Schools officials urged local business leaders Wednesday to lobby the County Commissioners on behalf of the school system.

William Blum, chief operating officer for the school system, told members of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce that local schools face a "capital crisis."

Blum said seven county schools are more than 50 years old and overdue for renovation. Among other things, "these schools lack air conditioning and sprinkler systems," he said.


In addition, he said, the county lags behind Maryland's standard for renovating schools every 40 years.

Blum, who spoke to business leaders as part of their annual breakfast update on education, said the school system has an $80 million backlog in its capital program.

That problem is made worse by a cut in state funding by half and an inflation rate of 2.8 percent per year for construction costs, Blum said.

Additionally, Blum said that because housing starts in the county have doubled in the past three years, a new school will be needed in the eastern part of the county to accommodate new families moving in.

"When you look at the number of building permits being issued, it's kind of frightening," he said.

With an annual adjusted capital improvements budget of about $5.3 million, Blum said, it's easy to see why the county is so far behind.

"We have 46 schools in the county," Blum said. "If we renovate every 50 years, we should be doing about one per year. We're now doing one per three years."

The school board is seeking authority to issue its own revenue bonds to help, and Blum attempted to sell Chamber members on the merits of getting that authority. The "intercept" model he proposes would allow the board to issue bonds based on the $70 million it receives each year from the state for education.

Blum said the intercept proposal would have no impact on the county government's debt limit, would allow expansion of the school board's capital improvement program and would accelerate the project of consolidating Conococheague and Maugansville elementary schools by two years.

"This is the least costly solution that I can think of," Blum said. "The only thing cheaper is to do nothing."

Asked whether administrators had considered leasing, Blum said that although "a number of vendors have been swarming us" with offers, leasing would be more expensive and offer less control.

He encouraged Chamber members to help lobby the local government and the delegation to get bonding authority for the board and expand its capital budget.

"Talk it up," Blum said. "We all know who our county commissioners are."

Also speaking to Chamber members were county Board of Education President Bernadette Wagner and Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan.

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