Deal near on school funds Commissioners, board may bend on Elmer Wolfe plan

February 05, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A friendly discussion between the school board and County Commissioners resulted in a tentative compromise yesterday over Elmer Wolfe Elementary School.

The commissioners remain firm in refusing $42,000 for a courtyard amphitheater, but might allow $64,000 worth of shelving to be restored to the building project.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown wants to see the shelving request in detail before he decides on it.

The cordial atmosphere prevailed even though the commissioners were exercising a greater degree of control than in past years, and over a relatively small portion of the $145 million school budget.

The control is particularly unusual because the $106,000 the school board wanted to spend to restore parts of the Elmer Wolfe project came not from county tax levies, but from an unexpected $237,000 workers compensation insurance dividend.

The commissioners allowed the schools to spend part of that money to replace an elevator at West Middle and for air conditioning, and vehicle repairs and purchases. But they declined a request to use $106,000 for a new Elmer Wolfe.

County school officials wanted to use the money for the Elmer Wolfe project because it came in $1 million over bid last year. They scaled down the project and rebid, and cut out some items that other county elementary schools have.

When the dividend became available, they tried to restore some of the most needed items, such as the shelving and a courtyard that was to house artifacts from the original building, which has been demolished. Students are temporarily using the former New Windsor Middle School until their new school is built.

Brown said that with all the capital projects and repairs in the school system, and the crunch in state and local dollars for that work, he was sure there were more pressing needs for the money.

"Is it affordable given today's school funding [picture]?" Brown asked. "I have my own sense of what the priorities would be if it were my call."

And it is his call, along with Commissioners Richard T. Yates and Donald I. Dell. Although the school board has some autonomy in spending within set categories, the bottom line and category totals must be set each year by the commissioners. Any changes and transfers between categories during the year have to be approved by the three-member panel.

"The law says when we want to move something from one account to another, we have to get the commissioners' approval," Superintendent Brian Lockard said.

But the county has rarely denied transfer requests, especially those involving relatively small amounts, such as the Elmer Wolfe request and the resurfacing of another school's tennis courts, which also came up yesterday.

The commissioners and Budget Director Steven Powell wanted more information before allowing the school board to transfer $7,800 to resurface cracked tennis courts at Liberty High School.

Powell ultimately recommended that the commissioners approve the request after learning that the courts are used for instruction.

"In the past, there has not been this level of scrutiny," Lockard said of the questions about the tennis courts and a breakdown of the shelving request.

But if the school board members took the scrutiny as micro-managing, they did not say so yesterday.

"I think this has been one of the most productive quarterly meetings since I've been on the board," said Board of Education President C. Scott Stone.

Stone said the commissioners have the right to look at transfers one by one. He said he knows the Union Bridge community will be disappointed to lose the courtyard, but that the commissioners weren't going to grant the transfer if it included the courtyard.

Rather than lose the shelving, too, Stone suggested that school administrators resubmit a separate request for it at the next school board meeting Feb. 12.

In other business, the commissioners and school board members will pursue an arrangement that could be mutually beneficial: The county has offered to provide mechanics and a shop to maintain school system vehicles, and has asked that the schools allow the county to use its warehouse buildings.

"We're inviting you to be our shopkeeper and operate our warehouse, and we're offering to be your vehicle maintenance shop," said Michael Evans, director of the county Department of Public Works.

School and county staff members will explore such an arrangement, but the school board also will put its vehicle maintenance out for bid as usual. Evans said the county's offer would likely be lower than that of a private contractor.

School board member Ann M. Ballard agreed, but said the board had to be sure, and wanted a more detailed proposal.

"I'd like to see it in black and white," Ballard said.

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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