HCC's lobbying effort pays off

Assembly fills $4.2 million of the school's capital budget request

`Enough to continue growth'

April 30, 2002|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Howard Community College administrators are breathing a giant sigh of relief.

Despite state cutbacks and a weak economy, the school received nearly $4.2 million of its $4.9 million capital funding request from the Maryland General Assembly. HCC was awarded the fourth-highest amount of money from the state among Maryland's 15 community colleges.

The funding comes at a critical time for HCC, which is building science and arts and humanities buildings, as well as adding athletic facilities.

"We were afraid we were going to be cut off at the knees ... but we're delighted now," said Roger N. Caplan, chairman of HCC's board of trustees.

Before Sept. 11, college officials were worried that the worsening economy would cut into the school's budget. After the attacks, school administrators realized funds would be in even shorter supply.

Their fears were realized when Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced plans in early spring to reduce funding for Maryland community colleges' operating budgets, which are used to pay salary and maintenance costs, among other things. Schools had been expecting a bonus tied to the 9 percent spending increase proposed for four-year colleges. Instead, they were informed that they could receive an increase of about 4 percent.

"Having the state pull back on what we expected ... we were concerned," said college President Mary Ellen Duncan.

Because HCC leaders had a smaller operating budget, they began lobbying lawmakers for an increase in their capital budget, which is used to make improvements or additions at the school. Unlike operating funds, which are allocated to schools on a formula, money for capital projects is distributed by the General Assembly on a merit basis.

"We said, `Let's regroup, let's get a strategy and let's go forward,'" Caplan said. "We had to fight to get what we deserve."

Duncan and other HCC officials lobbied lawmakers heavily. Competition for capital budget funds was fierce, and some schools agreed to defer some of their projects until 2004 to accommodate those that had more pressing needs.

"It was about as bad as I can ever remember," said Kay Bienen, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges. "We're bursting at the seams and growing tremendously quickly. ... Everyone has so many needs."

Politicians praised HCC officials' effort.

"Mary Ellen Duncan, in a positive way, has been more aggressive in communicating to the delegation what the school needs," said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Howard Democrat. "She legitimately feels that [HCC] hasn't done well from a capital perspective and made us aware of how poorly we had done [in funding the school]."

Although HCC administrators are pleased with the budget, they say they are not done raising funds and lobbying. Even with $4.2 million, the community college has many holes to fill.

For example, the state did not fund the full furniture budget for the Instructional Lab Building, which is under construction and will house science labs and classrooms.

HCC will try to save money earmarked for other purposes to cover the cost of the furniture.

Still, those are welcome challenges compared with the dark days of early spring when officials were unsure how much they would receive from the state, college leaders said.

"We have enough to continue growth ... and we'll try to be very careful and reasonable so that it can continue," Duncan said.

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