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Delegation mambers reject School Board borrowing plan

November 08, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County's state lawmakers said Friday they won't allow the School Board to borrow an extra $25 million for construction without the backing of the county government.

The school system's plan, which would have required the county to pay an extra $1.7 million a year in debt service over 25 years, was rejected last month by the Washington County Commissioners. It would have permitted the school system to borrow money at a lower interest rate by leveraging the state's premium bond rating, said Chief Operating Officer William Blum.

The plan was designed to help solve Washington County Public Schools' capital crisis - an $80 million construction and repair backlog that grows by $2.3 million every year with inflation, Blum said.

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At a meeting with educators Friday, lawmakers said they can't support the plan unless a majority of the commissioners agreed.

Commissioner James Kercheval was the lone supporter.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, chairman of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, urged the School Board to seek a compromise plan with the commissioners.

"I personally would like to see more thought on it," he said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, was skeptical of the plan because it still leaves the county with a $55 million backlog.

"It looks to me like this could result in a real debt problem in the future," he said.

Kercheval said the county can't rely on the state to solve the capital crisis.

"We've got to change our mind-set and say the state is not going to fix our problem," he said.

Shank, R-Washington, said when the state was flush with school construction money the county was not in a position to have matching money.

Earlier this year, the county enacted a transfer tax and excise fees to pay for school construction and other consequences of growth.

The School Board also has asked the commissioners to increase their annual budget for school construction from $5.9 million to $10 million.

Increasing enrollment makes the need for school construction even greater, Blum said.

After five years of virtually no enrollment growth, the number of students in the school system is beginning to increase, according to School Board statistics.

More than 2,000 housing units are proposed to be built in Hagerstown in the coming years, bringing an estimated 820 students into the school system, said Director of Facilities Dennis McGee.

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