Washington County won't fund schools' major maintenance projects

Washington County Public Schools will dip into its maintenance and operations budget to get funds from state

September 06, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |

With money tight in a sluggish economy, Washington County will not chip in funding for the school system’s major maintenance projects, according to county and school system officials.

That means the school system will be able to do fewer maintenance projects, such as painting entire schools, blacktopping school driveways and replacing sidewalks, Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael said.

The state provides about $2 for every $1 of local funding for larger, state-approved capital maintenance projects such as heating and air conditioning for schools, Michael said. In the past, the county usually has provided the local match.

The school system will start using money from its maintenance and operations budget — part of its general fund or operating budget — to provide the local match for larger capital maintenance projects, Michael said.


Two-for-one dollars is too good a deal to pass up, Michael said. If the school system doesn’t provide the local match, it would leave state money at the table, Michael said Thursday.

Discussion about the transition to using school system money to provide the local match for state-approved maintenance projects came up during the Sept. 4 Board of Education meeting. School system officials were discussing the board’s fiscal 2013-14 request to the state for capital funding.

“It will mean a substantial reduction of the projects that we’ve traditionally done,” Michael told the school board. “Our blacktopping efforts, our concrete projects, our small renovation, our requests from principals, those types of things are going to be diminished substantially next year,” Michael said while talking about the next fiscal year’s capital request.

If county funding continues to be limited, school system officials will “continue to prioritize, but we’re going to put our money in roofs, boilers, chillers, those types of systems that if they fail would cause us to close school,” said Michael, according to a video of the board meeting.

“We’ve got to keep the air conditioning on because we’ve closed up our buildings. We don’t have windows to open up for the most part. We have to keep heat running in the building. We have to keep the envelope of the building sealed up with roof, doors and windows,” Michael told the board.

The county did not provide any money for capital maintenance for the school system in the current fiscal year’s capital budget, according to Debra Murray, the county’s director of budget and finance. The school system had requested $3,934,000 for capital maintenance for the current fiscal year.

Murray said the county reduced, eliminated or pushed to later fiscal years capital funding requests from various agencies earlier this year because the county’s capital improvement fund has diminished over several years due to economic conditions.

The county’s 10-year funding plan doesn’t show any county money for capital maintenance projects for the public school system. The 10-year plan could change, depending on the economy, she said.

Murray said she thinks the economy is picking up, but it’s a slow recovery.

The unemployment rate has recovered some, which is showing up in income tax revenue, she said.

There’s been stabilization with the property tax as the number of houses for sale has decreased and the median housing price has increased, she said. Also, she said, the foreclosure rate has dropped.

However, the property tax stabilization isn’t reflected in property assessments, which are still projected to decrease for fiscal year 2013-14, Murray said. The state will update information about the assessable property base in November, she said.

Michael said the school system has enough money in its maintenance budget to handle the $988,000 needed for the local match for four state-approved maintenance projects for this fiscal year, Michael said.

According to school system documents and Rob Rollins, the school system’s director of facilities planning and development, those four projects and the funding breakdown are:

  • Replacing Funkstown School for Early Childhood Education’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. That project will be funded over multiple years with the total cost for the current fiscal year being $962,000. Of that, $365,000 needs to be provided locally.
  • Upgrading E. Russell Hicks Middle School’s electrical system. For this fiscal year, the local share is $169,000 and the state share is $277,000.
  • Replacing the windows and doors at Hancock Middle-Senior High School. For this fiscal year, the local share is $303,000 and the state share is $495,000.
  • Replacing the boiler at Pleasant Valley Elementary School. For this fiscal year, the local share is $151,000 and the state share is $247,000.
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