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School funding tradeoffs, cheap power and a safe (?) path

May 18, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

· In Tuesday's post-legislative forum, local lobbyist Mike Johansen said that Washington County's General Assembly delegation had brought back $9 million in school-construction money.

That's a lot of cash, but to put it in perspective, the replacement for the 50-year-old Pangborn Elementary School will cost about $26 million.

Before he delivers more state funding for school construction and renovations, I fear that Gov. Martin O'Malley will put the squeeze on the county's state lawmakers to go along with some things they'd rather not.

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It's been done before. In 2002, state Sen. Barbara Hoffman, chair of the Senate budget committee, told state Sen. Don Munson that if he didn't vote for an increase in the cigarette tax, he wouldn't get $12 million needed for the downtown campus of the University System of Maryland.

Munson agonized, then backed the tax and the campus opened on time.

Maryland's constitution gives the governor a great deal of authority over the state's budget. It would be foolish to think that O'Malley won't use it in 2008, since in all probability he will need to sell some of the revenue-enhancing measures he'll propose as bipartisan measures.

It isn't fair, but as humorist Finley Peter Dunne said in 1895, "Politics ain't beanbag."

· Bills to make electric power suppliers -and some appliances sold in Maryland - more "green" passed in the 2007 session, but none of them will make power any cheaper.

It's time for someone to try to do for citizens what Brien Poffenberger, director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Comerce has done for some local businesses - help create a power-purchasing cooperative.

When deregulation was being proposed back in the 1990s, an official of Maryland's Public Service Commission told me that the state envisioned that certain businesses would create co-ops as incentives for people to do business with them.

The thought was that if you were a customer of Smith's Insurance or an employee of Ace Widgets, you would get to share in that organization's power co-op.

That's essentially what the City of Hagerstown does. Instead of generating its own power, the city's Light Department buys it on behalf of the city's customers.

In 2005, nine firms bid on a contract to supply the city with power. I can't believe someone else couldn't organize a co-op for other county residents - and even make a buck doing it.

· Back in the 1980s, when John Cozzoli's children attended Lincolnshire Elementary School in Halfway, he worried about them walking home safely.

Lincolnshire Road, which deadends at the school, is a narrow street with no sidewalks. Unless the children walked on neighbors' front lawns, they had to walk in the street.

Cozzoli called Ron Bowers, then president of the Washington County Commissioners, who Cozzoli said told him he would "take care of it."

Reached last week, Bowers said he remembered Cozzoli and the solution they reached - painting the outlines of a path on one side of the street "so the kids could walk up and down the street safely."

The white outline is still there, but the students are walking on the lawns again because cars line up on top of the painted path, as parents wait to pick up their children.

On May 10, there were about a dozen cars, most with engines running and about an equal number of children walking past. Some tried to tiptoe along the curb, but most walked on the lawn, under the watchful eye of property owner Alex Serpi.

"I've been here 20 years and I never minded the kids walking across the lawn until last winter when we had all that ice and snow," Serpi said.

"I saw several kids fall here. One little girl had slipped and was falling into the road when someone else grabbed her," he said.

"I could be liable if someone gets hurt," he said.

Serpi said he's talked to the school and offered a couple of suggestions.

The first: Hold the children being picked up back about eight or nine minutes to give the walkers a chance to pass by. By 3:10 p.m. on the day I was there, all the cars were gone.

The second: Put them on the school bus, which isn't full, and drop them off safely down the block.

My own observation is that with a parking lot in the rear of the school, parents picking up students could do it there.

I called school officials and received the following e-mail from Darlene Teach, the principal:

"Mr. (Andrew) Nelson, the assistant principal, has spoken to the sheriff's department about this concern. The cars are not parked; they are waiting in line to pick up their children. We have talked to the students and asked them not to walk on the grass."

Perhaps we could get a gymnast who specializes in the balance beam to teach students how to walk on the curb without falling into a car or onto the lawns.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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