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Officials surprised by possible budget cuts

May 23, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

Washington County Commissioners said a decision to cut funding from at least one school building project was based on planning and available resources.

County Administrator Gregory Murray told school officials Tuesday that commissioners have proposed removing planning money to build a new Antietam Academy. The $426,000 for planning was included in the school system's fiscal 2007 budget.

Boyd Michael, assistant superintendent for school operations, and other school officials said they were unaware of that possible change until the Tuesday meeting.

The planned replacement for the alternative school would hold about 200 students, at a total estimated cost of about $12.4 million.

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County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he believes the school can be built for less money. He said he cannot OK funding for a school at a cost of $60,000 per seat when other schools are being built at $30,000 per seat. Board President Roxanne Ober said the $12.4 million estimate is a "worst case scenario."

Murray said school officials have not used the money they were given for planning. Because a number of other projects, including three new school buildings, were included, commissioners have proposed removing the Antietam Academy project from the current year's budget and the fiscal 2008 budget. That budget is expected to be voted on next month, and a public hearing was held Tuesday.

County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said he would like to see a plan for the replacement school before voting to fund it. Michael said possibilities include an area behind E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said school system staff would provide a detailed plan for Antietam Academy.

"One of the priorities of the board is to dedicate a building and site for those students and their needs," Michael said.

He also said he would like to address the need at Fountain Rock Elementary School for a cafeteria.

Murray said that project also was removed by commissioners from the proposed school system budget for fiscal 2008. The school system has asked for $1.5 million in the fiscal 2008 budget for that project.

Aleshire said he supports making systemic projects at various school sites the funding priority. In the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, that includes more than $3 million.

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