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USM-H funding cut proposal called 'attractive'

March 05, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- A state lawmaker called a recommendation to cut University System of Maryland at Hagerstown funding by about 90 percent -- effectively shutting down the campus -- "very attractive."

Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., who tried to gut USMH's funding last year, later vowed that no action would be taken that would end USM-H's operations. Bohanan, D-St. Mary's, heads a subcommittee that heard a state budget analyst recommendation Thursday to reduce campus funding from $2 million to $172,000.

Bohanan said he was upset by an inequity in funding for higher education centers statewide, and questioned whether a different location for the Hagerstown campus would be less costly.

C. David Warner III, executive director of USM-H, attended Thursday's hearing. He said he anticipates some money could be cut from his budget, but the campus would remain open at its downtown location.

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The subcommittee is expected to decide on the recommendation within 10 days. The subcommittee's recommendation will move to the full Appropriations Committee for approval.

Last year, Bohanan pushed to eliminate all $2.1 million for fiscal year 2009 for USM-H and spread it among several non-USM higher-education centers, including one in his district. Under the proposal, USM-H might have received $700,000. The House and Senate negotiated a compromise that restored $2 million to USM-H.

Sara Jean Baker, a state budget analyst, listed USM-H's location, poor relationship with the community and lack of support from Hagerstown Community College as reasons for stripping the campus of most funding and establishing it as a non-USM higher-education center, which operates on far less state money.

"Why should we cover 100 percent of the cost at Hagerstown, when we're covering less than 5 percent at these other centers, and we get the same result at the end of the day?" Bohanan asked.

Warner said since it opened in 2005, USM-H has become the third largest of eight regional higher-education centers in the state.

To show his support for USM-H, HCC President Guy Altieri wrote a letter to state lawmakers, saying USM-H "provides a most important transfer option for (HCC) graduates."

Location



William E. "Brit" Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said during testimony Thursday it costs about $700,000 annually to operate the building. That includes electricity, heating and maintenance costs.

"What would you say if I said we would support a move? If the city wants to keep it downtown, the city can help defray the cost," Bohanan said during the hearing.

Kirwan said the state has invested about $13 million in the downtown location over the past several years.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said in a phone interview that USM-H is "extremely important" to the vitality of downtown Hagerstown. He said the city could not fund the campus at a level that would keep it running if state money was cut.

"It was the cornerstone for redevelopment in downtown Hagerstown," Bruchey said. "It needs to remain there."

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, attended Thursday's hearing, and called USM-H the anchor of downtown Hagerstown. He said he was confident the funding cut would not happen, and the campus would survive.

Donoghue and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said they would continue to work with leadership in both houses to ensure funding for USM-H. Donoghue also pledged to approach Gov. Martin O'Malley on the issue.

Funding equity



During a visit to USM-H in January, Bohanan promised not to ask for similar cuts to USM-H funding during the current legislative session. He acknowledged that statement Thursday, but said it was unfair that USM-H funding went untouched in this year's proposed budget.

Bohanan questioned Thursday why O'Malley's proposed budget offered a 1 percent increase in funding for USM-H and a 30 percent cut in funding for the six non-USM regional higher-education centers statewide.

Maryland Secretary of Higher Education James E. Lyons Sr. told the subcommittee he agreed that other education centers needed additional funding, but he opposes removing the Hagerstown campus from the USM system and shutting it down.

The non-USM centers allow programs other than those from University System of Maryland schools. However, Warner said he also is allowed to adopt a needed program if a USM school doesn't offer it.

Baker's report states that Mount St. Mary's University and McDaniel College were both denied their requests to offer programs at USM-H.

Warner said he has never needed non-USM programs. When the Hagerstown campus opened in 2005, it had 12 academic programs. There currently are 19 programs there, and Warner said there are plans to add two more by this time next year.

"We've grown nine programs in four years and never had an issue where a University System school didn't want to come," Warner said.

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