Warner: Proposed USM-H cut a ploy

March 06, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- A Southern Maryland lawmaker's desire to cut state funding from the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown is a ploy to secure more money for a higher education center in his district, USM-H Executive Director C. David Warner said Friday.

Warner was referring to Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, who heads a subcommittee that will make a decision on USM-H funding. Bohanan said Friday he disagrees with Warner's statement.

Bohanan supports a funding cut for USM-H, but pledged Thursday that no action would be taken that would end USM-H's operations.

On Thursday, a state budget analyst recommended funding for USM-H be cut by about 90 percent from $2 million to $172,000 in the coming budget year and that USM-H be turned into a non-USM center.


Local officials said a 90 percent cut in USM-H funding would shut down the campus.

"What I think's going on here is that our center is being used as a pawn in his battle for John Bohanan to get more money for Southern Maryland," Warner said. "I expect this battle every year until he gets his money or we figure out some way to stop him from doing this."

The budget analyst's recommendation was presented Thursday to Bohanan's subcommittee.

Last year, Bohanan pushed to eliminate all $2.1 million for USM-H in fiscal year 2009 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.


"The issue is not my center," Bohanan said. "There are six centers that now operate on a shoestring."

Those centers are non-USM centers that operate on far less state money. USM-H receives all of its funding from the state and was modeled after a similar center in Montgomery County.

However, Bohanan said USM-H has more in common with the six non-USM centers.

Those higher education centers receive less than $1,000 per student from the state, and the center in Bohanan's district receives only $700 per student, he said. USM-H receives about $8,000 per student.

"The issue here is, is it fair for the state to continue paying 100 percent of the cost with a premium budget while these other centers ... the state's paying less than 5 percent of their budget and they make up the rest through students and the local community," Bohanan said.

He said there is more state money in USM-H's budget for media relations staff than the other non-USM centers receive from the state for the year.

"That's not fair," Bohanan said. "The local community needs to step up like they have in other areas."

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Thursday the city could not afford to defray USM-H costs from the state.

Warner has said that USM-H cannot raise as much private money as the other centers. The non-USM centers raise the bulk of their money through fundraising efforts, charging for the use of their facilities for weddings and banquets and collecting rent money.

Warner has said USM-H cannot host large events because the building's largest room holds only 50 people, and the facility lacks a kitchen and other food service capabilities.

The future

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

Hagerstown Community College President Guy Altieri pledged his support Thursday for USM-H. Washington County Public Schools also is a partner with the downtown campus, and will hold its academic classes for Barbara Ingram School for the Arts students at USM-H when the performing arts high school opens for the 2009-10 school year.

Schools spokesman Richard Wright said Friday the school system supports USM-H, and said they do not expect the center to close or leave the downtown area.

"If we are forced to move, we certainly will find a quality location for our school and for our students," he said.

Warner said he was confident that USM-H would remain open and stay downtown, despite Bohanan's questioning of whether a new location would be less costly.

"What's paramount to me right now is reassuring students, staff, faculty, partner university representatives and my board members that we will go on. We will be here. We will be a system center, and we will be operating next year," Warner said.

Warner said he expects there will be a recommendation to cut USM-H funding, but is unsure by how much.

"Everybody's getting cut," he said. "It's not pleasant. I anticipate a cut. If it's substantial, we'll have to make some changes."

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