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Md. House approves additional $1 million for Hagerstown's university campus

Measure could keep center from closing

Measure could keep center from closing

March 20, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS -- A budget amendment on the Maryland House floor on Wednesday will funnel $1 million to Hagerstown's university campus, possibly saving the center from closing.

The action, spearheaded by Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, came about a week after a House subcommittee slashed the center's fiscal year 2009 budget.

But University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan said the amendment likely would "cripple" the university system's main office, which will lose the $1 million now earmarked for Hagerstown.

That's 8 percent of the main office's budget and "would require massive layoffs" among the 100 to 120 employees there, he said.

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The new development came after a topsy-turvy week for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

A House Appropriations subcommittee on March 11 eliminated the center's entire $2.1 million proposed budget for next year.

The full Appropriations Committee approved the cut Friday.

Instead, the money is to be given to the Maryland Higher Education Commission to distribute among Hagerstown and six non-USM centers.

The subcommittee chairman, Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, produced a spreadsheet showing USM-Hagerstown getting about $700,000 from MHEC.

None of that was guaranteed, though, officials said this week, meaning Hagerstown could have gotten no funding next year.

The amendment Donoghue successfully pushed for on the House floor doesn't change the $2.1 million funding shift.

However, it gives USM-Hagerstown $1 million redirected from the USM main office -- to be added to approximately $700,000 the center could get from MHEC.

"I think this is great," Donoghue said about Wednesday's boost for Hagerstown.

He said it lets USM schools stay, including a nursing program that's critical in light of a statewide nursing shortage.

Donoghue said there's a chance USM-Hagerstown could get more money when the Senate and House resolve differences in their versions of the state budget.

The Senate kept the USM-Hagerstown budget at about $2.1 million, as proposed.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said his request to be an adviser on the budget conference committee, because of his concern about USM-Hagerstown funding, was approved. The conference committee is expected to meet next week.

Munson said the House amendment gets guaranteed money for Hagerstown.

"I think it was a good old college try by Delegate Donoghue," he said. "(But) it complicates some things because of the way the money's transferred out."

"I'm, quite frankly, very concerned about the amendment," Kirwan said in a phone interview. "This could very much complicate our ability to get this matter resolved."

"It's a shame that all of our efforts haven't been focused on (rescinding) the House cuts," he added.

C. David Warner III, USM-Hagerstown's executive director, said by phone he was "very grateful" to Donoghue for the $1 million inserted in the House version of the budget.

At the same time, there are "serious implications" for moving USM-Hagerstown outside the university system, he said.

One problem, he said, is USM-Hagerstown's staff is considered employees of Frostburg State University, which could lead to personnel questions.

Also, the change could create problems for the center's contracts with various entities, he said.

Bohanan said he agreed to the amendment as a one-year "transition" to cushion USM-Hagerstown's sudden change in funding.

Otherwise, he supports grouping USM-Hagerstown with six MHEC centers, including one in his district, that currently share less than half of what Hagerstown was scheduled to get and letting them all compete for money.

Supporters, though, say the other centers are different in many ways and comparing them to a fledgling USM center isn't fair.

"We have a $20 million investment in downtown Hagerstown that would have been sunk," Donoghue said.

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