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County may have to shoulder more school building costs

February 04, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A state task force has endorsed a new school construction formula that would put a greater financial burden on Washington County.

Under the proposed formula, Washington County would have to pay 41 percent of school construction costs, compared to the 35 percent it pays now.

Starting in the 2006 budget year, the state share would drop from 65 percent to 59 percent.

The Task Force to Study Public School Facilities on Monday voted to back the proposal.

The only Western Maryland representative on the task force said he favors the new formula.

Del. George Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany, said one of the task force's main responsibilities was to come up with a fair way of determining the state versus local share, which ranges from 50 percent to 90 percent, with wealthier counties paying more.

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The new formula, which takes into consideration a variety of factors, would most help economically depressed parts of the state along with fast-growing counties.

Washington County is one of five counties that would lose state money under the proposal. Twelve jurisdictions would get more state money and the remaining six would stay the same.

Even if the legislature does not adopt the new formula, Washington County is in line to lose money.

When the current formula is reapplied, Washington County's share would increase from 35 percent to 40 percent.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook asked local lawmakers last week to try to prevent any losses to the county.

Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said the task force recommendation will carry a lot of weight but the legislation still faces a public hearing and legislative scrutiny.

With the state pouring record amounts of money into public schools, Shank said perhaps some of that could be diverted to school construction.

To bring every school in the state up to minimum standards would cost $3.9 billion, according to the task force's draft report.

To take care of the most critical needs, the state would have to provide $186 million a year over the next decade, the report says.

In his proposed 2005 budget, Gov. Robert Ehrlich has earmarked $101.6 million, which is the lowest amount in recent years.

Ehrlich's predecessor Parris Glendening, was spending $250 million a year on school construction when the state's coffers were overflowing.

The county at that time failed to take advantage of the state windfall by not putting forward enough matching money, Shank said.

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