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Commissioner: School Board fund requests unreasonable

November 17, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - One Washington County Commissioner said Tuesday that the Board of Education's money requests to the county for school construction projects were unreasonable and "way above" historic levels.

Several County Commissioners said it's unlikely the school board would get the $146.6 million it wants over the next six years.

Meanwhile, the school board altered the ranking of capital projects in its request, after citing an error made by an employee at its Nov. 3 meeting.

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The school board has said growing enrollments and aging buildings are some reasons for the increased construction needs.

"To me, these requests are just not reasonable," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said at a joint meeting of the commissioners and the school board on Tuesday.

Wivell said the school system is asking for $31 million from the county for construction projects in fiscal year 2006, which begins on July 1, 2005.

"That's probably our entire CIP budget alone," Wivell said of the fiscal year 2006 request.

The county contributed $10 million to the school board's capital improvement plan this fiscal year - fiscal year 2005. The county's Capital Improvement Program for this fiscal year is about $30 million.

The $31 million request from the school board includes a cash request of about $24 million and about $7 million the school board doesn't think it will receive from the state, Wivell said.

The school board is requesting $10 million from the state, but believes it will receive only about $3 million, Wivell said.

In addition, the school board has proposed that the county give it $30.9 million for construction projects in fiscal year 2007, $48.6 million in fiscal year 2008, $17.4 million in fiscal year 2009, $10 million in fiscal year 2010 and $14.8 million fiscal year 2011.

The school board adopted its capital plan at its Nov. 3 meeting.

Later Tuesday, Wivell said in a phone interview that he didn't think the county would be able to come up with that kind of money.

"Not unless some serious dollars show up on our doorstep," he said.

Wivell said the money requests are "way above our historic levels."

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said by phone Tuesday evening that he considered the school board's requests to be worst-case scenarios.

His guess is that the school system's actual financial needs would be between the $10 million it received this year from the county and a little higher, he said.

"Clearly, we're not going to be able to fund them the $30-some million" for fiscal year 2006," Snook said.

"This is our budget, and we're going to control the growth in as far as making it work for the school system," Snook said.

Commissioner John C. Munson said in a phone interview Tuesday that he was certain the school board wouldn't receive $31 million in fiscal year 2006.

"They think they need all that stuff, and they may, but there's no way we can fund it all right away," Munson said. "There's no way possible."

School board member Bernadette Wagner said during Tuesday night's school board meeting that she made comments at the Nov. 3 school board meeting that were "based on some inaccurate information."

Later in the meeting Chief Operating Officer William Blum said, "I am the gentleman who misspoke at the last meeting."

At the Nov. 3 meeting, board members said the proposed Capital Improvement Plan appeared to delay renovations of Pangborn Elementary School.

Both at the work session and before the vote at the Nov. 3 meeting, Blum told the school board that planning for the renovation of Pangborn would occur in fiscal year 2009 and said that was not a change from the prior year's plan, school board President Edward Forrest said Tuesday.

In fact, Blum said, the previous board had scheduled planning for the renovation to occur in fiscal year 2006.

The board voted Tuesday to alter the new proposal and place Pangborn back in fiscal year 2006.

Wagner said of Pangborn, "we have conditions now that are, in my estimation, deplorable."

Wagner expressed concern that the CIP was too focused on future students and future schools.

"We have to plan for, and take care of, students currently in the school system," Wagner said. To emphasize future students over current students would be "selling them short," she said.

Staff writer Scott Butki contributed to this story.

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