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Schools react to construction proposal

Ehrlich's plan increases funding, but some say it's still not enough

Ehrlich's plan increases funding, but some say it's still not enough

January 06, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

karenh@herald-mail.com

A proposal that would give Maryland schools a $281 million increase in state construction money drew mixed reviews from Washington County Public Schools officials Thursday. Gov. Robert Ehrlich's proposal also includes a $462 million increase in state education funds.

"Any increase is good, but I think it's still going to fall short of meeting the need," Board of Education President W. Edward Forrest said of Ehrlich's proposed construction funding. The board last year backed a Maryland Association of Boards of Education legislative agenda calling for $400 million in school construction funding.

According to a statement released by Ehrlich's office, funding for construction projects has more than doubled since 2003.

"We have fully funded our public schools with a record $1.4 billion funding increase since 2003 and have more than doubled school construction funding over that same time period so that Maryland students can learn in safe and modernized schools," Ehrlich said in the press release.

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Rodney Turnbough, the school system's director of facilities management, reacted to news of the proposal with two words: "That's excellent."

The proposal does not include details on how money would be distributed to the state's 24 school systems. According to Turnbough, the Maryland General Assembly typically votes on a budget in April, and school systems begin receiving money for the new fiscal year in the summer, he said.

Last year's construction funding was for $250 million across the state, Turnbough said.

"We appreciate it, and I think we're on the right track, and hopefully we can get the state funding up, so it's not such a burden on the local (government)," Turnbough said.

Board Vice President Jacqueline B. Fischer said she does not know if the money would be enough to keep pace with the county's growing enrollment.

New residents are attracted to the county because of its schools, Fischer said. Tax assessments are climbing, but she said she is not sure if revenues will keep up with the demand.

"It's fine to enjoy development and high taxes, but if all of a sudden, the things that are attracting people to this county are reversed, they're going to go elsewhere again," Fischer said.

The system needs to address aging buildings, while providing more space for students, she said.

Both Fischer and Forrest said they would like the state to base its distribution of construction funds on schools' needs and projected enrollments.

"Regardless of how much of the surplus he puts in there for school construction, I would hope he would put priority on the growth counties, but I'm not holding my breath," Fischer said.

The school board voted in November to revise its 2007-2012 Capital Improvement Program to reflect lower-than-anticipated enrollment projections. The school system's population could increase by 375 to 550 new students a year over the next few years, Chief Operating Officer G. William Blum said at the time.

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