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BOE trying to make sure that no school building is left behind

November 12, 2005|By Roxanne Ober

Thank you to the Washington County Commissioners for the $3.5 million allocated to the Board of Education for deferred school maintenance. The board is using the funds to address the out-of-date, and in some cases out-of-repair, 1950s infrastructure of our schools.

We know the importance of keeping schools in good repair, but have lacked the financial resources to do so. The fact is, over the last 20 years the operations and maintenance budget has received less and less of the funding pie. Over the past 33 years, the national publication American School & University has been surveying school finance directors.

They recently reported that school operations and maintenance budgets have gone from 9.2 percent of a school system's budget in 1994 to 7.7 percent in 2004. In its March 2005 report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave school infrastructure in the U.S. a grade of "D."

The report went on to say that it is uncertain whether schools can handle growing enrollment and maintain smaller class sizes required by the No Child Left Behind Act. The Washington County school system's budget has seen some increases over the past six years, and clearly the board's focus has been on the classroom, with more than 86 percent of our budget going to salaries and benefits to keep class sizes low and attract and retain qualified staff in our school system.

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Unfortunately, the average age of our schools in Washington County is more than 42 years and most are in need of attention.

Because of many issues that have surfaced due to our aging infrastructure, this past year the School Board supported staff in conducting a facilities assessment of our 45 sites. The facilities assessment was completed over a number of months and provides a comprehensive review of each of our buildings.

The assessment was used in the development of a facilities master plan and guides the board in determining which buildings need renovation and modernization; replacement of roofs, windows, mechanical systems, and heating and air conditioning; and modifications for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law after most school buildings were built. The intended outcome of the facilities assessment was to create a safe and desirable learning environment for our students and staff.

As ever, with accountability foremost in our minds, the board would like to share what we anticipate will be the positive outcomes and rewards of the comprehensive facilities assessment and other related initiatives for Washington County Public Schools.

n The facilities assessment will guide the Board of Education in developing a budget to address deferred maintenance and critical renovations and modernizations of buildings.

n The facilities assessment will assist the board in prioritizing needs throughout the county.

n The facilities assessment will be used as a tool by the board to advocate for the needs of our school system with the County Commissioners, City Council of Hagerstown and the municipalities. The board is hopeful it can provide for our children through collaboration with its elected colleagues and other partners in the community.

n The facilities assessment has focused attention on the specific needs of our schools and spurred the board to search for new opportunities to collaborate with others to bid competitively for services to address our deferred maintenance needs and develop creative ways to fund new school construction. For example, two years ago the Board sought a $25 million bonding authority to address the school system's deferred maintenance.

Because Washington County has recently become one of the fastest growing regions in the state, the board is monitoring enrollment projections carefully.

We continue to challenge ourselves to come up with creative solutions and ask citizens to become advocates in assisting us with seeking the appropriate funds to repair, modernize, and build new schools.

We recently hired a facilities planner who will keep up to date on residential development and calculate how much square footage our school system will need over the next five years or more to accommodate growth in Washington County.

The board is confident that the changes we are implementing in the school system will keep us on the path for developing an efficient and effective process to address adequate school infrastructure for our children and will ensure that "no building will be left behind."

Roxanne Ober is a member of the
Washington County
Board of Education.

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