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Residents ask why Abingdon isn't getting new school

Budgets and BudgetingSchoolsElementary SchoolsU.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPTAHigh Schools

Some residents want to know when will it be Abingdon's turn for a new school.

The community's William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School on Route 7 near its intersection with Route 24 is one of Harford County's public schools most in need of replacement and yet it's been supplanted near the top of the school construction list by Havre de Grace High School. Discussions at Monday night's Abingdon Community Council meeting turned from money budgeted for education to construction of a new Havre de Grace High School and Youth's Benefit Elementary School, and why the community's William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School isn't number one or two on the county's new construction list.

Kim Spence, chief budget manager for Harford County, gave an overview to the council and the meeting's attendees on how the county's budget is formed every year.

Council chair Cynthia Hergenhahn pointed out that the county executive's preliminary budget hearing, open to the public, is Jan. 28, the same night as the community council's monthly meeting.

Spence explained that the budget process will be slightly different this year because a charter amendment was approved on the November ballot that extends the county executive's time to submit the proposed budget to the county council to April 15. Because of this, the council has until June 15 to pass the budget.

Council member C. David Copenhaver commented that voters were "bombarded" with advertisements on the different ballot questions, especially Question 7, which as approved will expand gambling in the state.

One ad against the ballot measure, he continued, said money was taken out of the state education fund and used toward something else.

"Is there a safeguard to ensure that money going toward education actually goes there?" Copenhaver asked.

"It absolutely stays in the education fund," Spence responded.

County Councilman Dion Guthrie chimed in, adding that money appropriated for education in Harford County stays there.

The education discussion went further, delving into the hot topic of the construction of a new Havre de Grace High School.

Harford County Executive David Craig, a Havre de Grace resident and HHS graduate, has pushed for a full replacement of the school and promised to give funding for a new Youth's Benefit Elementary School, as well as a new HHS.

Last month, the Harford County Board of Education agreed to make the Havre de Grace High project and a replacement building for Youth's Benefit Elementary in Fallston its top priorities in the 2014 fiscal year capital budget.

Hergenhahn noted that in a copy of the fiscal year 2012 budget Spence passed out, $1.3 million was appropriated for a roof replacement at HHS.

"Are we going to replace the roof and then replace the high school?" she asked.

Spence said the money could have been appropriated for that project during a previous budget year and hadn't been used yet as, at the moment, the roof at the school has not been replaced.

Guthrie commented that the state, which has to approve funding for the projects, "doesn't agree" with the current plan for a new HHS.

Del. Susan McComas, also in the audience, said the projects are headed for the state's interagency council that deals with school construction for review.

"Havre de Grace didn't get a good initial response from them," she said, "but Youth's Benefit did and the PTA is really pushing forward on it because they had the design and construction study done in 2009 and in 1996 they had the scope study."

The delegate added "there's a great deal of need" at Youth's Benefit for a new school and Havre de Grace does not share that need.

Hergenhahn bluntly asked if the reason why Youth's Benefit was able to receive money for a scope study and design services was because the PTA was so proactive and William Paca/Old Post Road's PTA was not and therefore didn't receive funding.

Guthrie agreed that William Paca's PTA "needed to be a little more proactive" and pointed out that the communities the schools are in greatly differ.

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