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Panel OKs USM-H funding cut

March 20, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- A $500,000 cut in funding from the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown's $2 million budget was approved Friday by the House Appropriations Committee.

The proposal, which will move to the full House for a vote Wednesday, also calls for reducing the downtown Hagerstown center's funding over the next four years to a level more consistent with non-USM centers. Those cuts would decrease USM-H funding to $172,000.

A proposal earlier this month to reduce the center's funding to $172,000 was rejected. At that time, officials said funding of $172,000 would be what USM-H would receive if it was a non-USM center.

C. David Warner III, executive director of USM-H, has said a funding cut of that size would shut down the center.

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The proposal to cut USM-H funding was approved unanimously Friday by the Appropriations Committee. No member of Washington County's delegation sits on the committee.

"It's really no surprise to me," Warner said of the cut.

Warner was in Annapolis Friday for the committee's vote. He said it still is early in the process, and the committee is supporting more funding for USM-H this year than last.

Last year, Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, who heads the House subcommittee that cut USM-H funding, 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.

Warner predicted Friday the House would approve the committee's decision when it votes Wednesday and the approval of USM-H funding would follow a similar path as last year.

The House committee also approved $10.3 million in cuts from the University System of Maryland as a whole, and another $10 million in general fund losses for the system, not including the elimination of $500,000 required to be taken from USM-H.

Warner said Friday he would not speculate about what a funding cut would do to USM-H until a final number was known and he had consulted with university system officials about what the USM-H cut and the system's total cut would mean for the Hagerstown center.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said everyone should remain calm, and no funding decisions for USM-H had yet been made.

Donoghue said Gov. Martin O'Malley has pledged his support for USM-H. He said he would continue to work to secure as much funding as possible for the center.

Bohanan said his subcommittee did not recommend similar cuts for USM-H's sister center, Universities at Shady Grove, which is a USM center in Montgomery County, because it is larger and operates differently than other regional higher education centers.

Bohanan said there are centers statewide that operate on as little as $400 in state money per student. He said USM-H spends $8,000 per student, and said the effort to reduce the state's investment in USM-H was a matter of "equity."

However, Warner said the $8,000 per student cited by Bohanan was a figure from fiscal year 2008. Through enrollment growth -- which is up 15 percent -- and an effort to increase nonstate revenue, the cost per pupil dropped to $5,000 in the current fiscal year.

As of the fall of 2008, USM-H had 21 programs from six universities and enrolled 455 students.

Joe Bucci, director of communications for the Shady Grove center, said Thursday the Montgomery County, Md., center enrolls about 3,000 graduate, undergraduate, full- and part-time students, making it the largest regional higher education center in the state.

Bucci said Friday the cost per pupil at the Shady Grove center was $4,007 in the current fiscal year based on 1,844 full-time equivalent students. He said the cost per pupil at the Hagerstown center was $7,046 per pupil based on 273 full-time equivalent students.

Bucci said Thursday he would provide The Herald-Mail with the Shady Grove center's operating budget, but did not respond to an additional request Friday for the information.

He said it was difficult to compare the Shady Grove and Hagerstown centers because Shady Grove opened nine years ago and the Hagerstown center is in its fourth year of operation. The Shady Grove center also is in a more populated area, Bucci said.

Warner has said USM-H is the newest and youngest of the state's eight regional higher education centers, but also is the third largest.




Donoghue blames Shank for lawmakers' attempts to reduce funding for USM-H



ANNAPOLIS -- Del. John P. Donoghue said Friday another state lawmaker agrees that Del. Christopher B. Shank is to blame for attempts to cut funding for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

However, Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, said he never mentioned Shank, R-Washington, by name.

Donoghue, D-Washington, said Wednesday that Shank's repeated votes against the state's budget and requests to reduce spending led lawmakers to suggest those cuts come from USM-H.

Donoghue said Friday that Bohanan agreed.

"(Bohanan) said, 'Delegate Shank said spending is unreasonable' ... Well, here's a way to rein it in," Donoghue said.

Bohanan heads a subcommittee that recommended cuts to USM-H funding this year and last year.

When told about Donoghue's comments, Bohanan said he did not mention Shank by name, but he did say some lawmakers complain about overspending by the state.

"We all know who they are," Bohanan said.

He said the decision to cut funding from USM-H was based on equity and was "completely appropriate," not because of Shank's actions.

-- Erin Cunningham

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