Coppin's wait for state funds continues

Tight budget stalls hoped-for infusion

February 01, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Coppin State College, which for years has waited patiently for the level of funding enjoyed by other branches of the state university system, will have to wait some more.

In the fall, an independent commission reported that the state had so neglected Coppin State during the past two decades that it would take $300 million in capital funds during the next 10 years to bring the campus up to par with the rest of the state university system.

But under the budget proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening last week, the historically black college in West Baltimore will have to make do with much less. The spending plan includes about $85 million in capital funds for the college in the next five years, most of which won't be available until 2006.

The governor's proposed funding of Coppin will be reviewed today by legislators in Annapolis.

Coppin State leaders and supporters say the governor's proposal falls far short of meeting the school's needs but that they understand that the slow economy constrains the state's ability to help the college.

"Its special needs have not yet been addressed in the governor's budget," said John S. Toll, president of Washington College and chairman of the independent commission. "But we realize the budget is very tight this year."

The governor's budget, Coppin's advocates say, reflects the college's poor timing.

During the past decade, when the strong economy allowed the state to lavish capital funds on many public campuses, Coppin received disproportionately little. The Toll commission found that the state had given Coppin $669 a student in capital funds in the 1990s, compared with an average of $16,144 a student at the state's other campuses.

Six of Coppin's 10 buildings require serious renovations, and three are so run-down that they should be razed, the commission found.

The report, which was undertaken as part of the state's agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, prompted state leaders to promise to close the funding gap. A few months later, though, the state found itself in the worst fiscal situation in a decade and ill-prepared for the big spending the Toll report requires.

Coppin State President Calvin W. Burnett, who is retiring in August, said yesterday that the 3,000-student college shouldn't have to bear the brunt of the downturn as much as other campuses. "We shouldn't have to scrape as much as the others because they were advantaged in the good times, and we weren't," he said.

Under the governor's proposed budget, the state, during the next five years, would pay for a $40 million academic building for Coppin's nursing and social work programs, an $8 million utilities upgrade and a $7 million technology upgrade.

The proposed budget does not include several other major projects included in the Board of Regents' $144 million request for Coppin, including a new Center for Urban Education, a new Science and Technology Center, and renovations of several campus buildings. Instead, the proposed budget would give Coppin $36.7 million to apply toward these projects as it saw fit.

Maqbool Patel, Coppin's associate vice president for capital planning and facilities management, said that money, most of which won't be available until 2006, would be enough to start planning the building projects but that ideally the school would get about $40 million more in the next five years toward construction.

"At least this is a starting point," Patel said. "We're not getting everything we expected for the next five years, but we'll analyze how to put it to best use."

Patel said Coppin is unsure how much it would receive next year in operating funds. The Toll panel recommended that Coppin receive $6.7 million, about 50 percent more than the regents requested, but the operating budget for the whole system would increase only 3.6 percent under Glendening's proposal.

The commission's report urged the state to make about $20 million available immediately to Coppin State so that it could buy about 25 acres to its north and south for its planned expansion. That money is not included in the governor's budget, either, but Toll said yesterday that he hopes it will be added in a supplemental budget in the spring.

Burnett, too, hopes the state will come through with extra money when the economy improves.

"I hope it's not misplaced faith, but I'm confident that in coming years these objectives will be achieved," he said.

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