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Officials say 'emergency things' vital for schools

April 27, 2005|BY KAREN HANNA and TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Leaky roofs, cracked parking lots and crowded classrooms headline the list of supplemental maintenance projects Washington County Public Schools officials presented Tuesday to the County Commissioners.

The School Board approved the $2.7 million supplemental list at its business meeting April 5. The request is on top of a $24.6 million request submitted to the County Commissioners in November.

"It's a matter of emergency things that need to be done now for which we don't have sufficient funds to cover," said William Blum, chief operating officer for the school system.

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In a meeting after school officials left, four of the five commissioners said they had problems with the request.

"I think they're going to bury the county in red ink," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said.

Wivell said the school board should check whether money for the projects is available from the state. He also said school officials might be bending to pressure from residents by including some projects on the list.

"I think the list is somewhat politicized based on requests from citizens," Wivell said.

Wivell, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said they wanted more details about the projects on the supplemental list and whether they took higher priority than the projects the school board originally presented to the commissioners.

"This stuff, none of this has ever been on a list I have ever seen," said Nipps, a former school board member. "Is this higher than stuff already included in the budget?"

Commissioner John C. Munson said he thought the commissioners have been more than fair to the school board.

"We can't do the $2.7 (million)," he said. "That's all there is to it."

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he'd like to hear suggestions on how the commissioners could pay for the request. He told the commissioners that if the projects are delayed now because of funding issues, inflation will drive up the costs down the road.

As a result, Kercheval said the commissioners should consider increasing borrowing to pay for the projects.

"If we don't have it, we don't have it," Kercheval said. "But don't deny that it's costing us more money to delay the projects. Being fiscally responsible means taking that into consideration as well."

The list of 15 maintenance projects includes proposals for work at the Central Office and 10 schools.

The commissioners asked Blum why items included in the new request aren't part of the operating budget.

"Let me put this way: At what level do you capitalize your budget?" Snook asked.

According to Michael Peplinski, supervisor of maintenance and operations for the school system, the projects include new water holding tanks for Fountain Rock and Conococheague elementary schools, which use well water, lighting upgrades at Hancock Elementary School and the creation of more classroom space and lighting upgrades at Boonsboro High School.

The largest expenditure would be $986,000 to remove duct work and tiles containing asbestos at Williamsport High School.

Rodney Turnbough, director of facilities management for the school system, said state funding would not be adequate to cover the projects. The list of projects has not been submitted to the state, he said.

According to Snook, the state's capital improvement program allocation stands at $6.5 million. The commissioners' proposed capital improvement program includes $12.6 million for schools.

According to the commissioners' proposed general fund budget unveiled earlier this month, the schools' request of nearly $82 million for operating costs next year would be fully funded.

Peplinski, who was hired in December, said he has toured 14 schools represented in the CIP at the time the request was made. He said he has found no problems as severe as those listed in the CIP in subsequent tours.

"Will I find anything later on? There's a good possibility," Peplinski said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to cover that out of whatever budget ... our operating budget."

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