MOU Approved For School Funding

SALISBURY – More than $13 million in funding is expected to benefit a school construction project.

Last week, the Wicomico County Council voted unanimously to execute a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Wicomico County Board of Education and the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) to receive $13.8 million in Built to Learn (BTL) funds for a renovation and addition project at Mardela Middle and High School.

“In short, the use of BTL funds is necessary to complete this phased, occupied renovation project and could allow for an earlier construction start,” said Leisl Ashby, the school system’s director of planning and construction. “The MSA has already gone to the bond market. Once the MOU is executed, Wicomico will be able to access funds for eligible construction costs.”

Enacted in 2020, the Built to Learn Act allows the MSA to issue revenue bonds to fund school construction projects and provides for its management of the projects. As part of the legislation, the Interagency Commission on School Construction (IAC) and the Maryland Stadium Authority approved its own MOU that governs the program.

Ashby told council members last week the acceptance of BTL funds also requires an agreement between the county, the school system and the MSA. As the board of education had signed off on the MOU last month, she said officials were now seeking the county’s approval.

“The involvement of the county in the MOU is a commitment to local cost share, which has already been approved in the board’s capital improvement plan and budget and recommended by the county executive in the county’s current capital improvement plan, as well as the executive in prior year bond sales,” she said.

Ashby also noted there were three major reasons for seeking BTL funds for the Mardela project. Not only would it allow the school system to retain local control, she said, but it would also support cashflow needs.

“The IAC is shifting to a formulaic approach for capital projects. This is negatively impacting the ability to execute the Mardela renovation project due to cashflow needs …,” she said. “Without BTL, the cashflow needs of the project exceed available funding and will put the project at further risk of incurring additional costs. BTL funds represent approximately 27% of the state cost share.”

Ashby also noted it would also fund early bid packages.

“Third, given rising inflation and the volatility in the construction market, including labor shortages and supply-chain issues, the BTL funds now will assist in funding the necessary early bid packages,” she explained. “Early bid packages are necessary due to long lead times for various equipment and materials … Utilizing BTL for early bid packages will preserve local funding for non-eligible expenses.”

School system officials noted the proposed MOU had been reviewed by the School Building Commission, the board of education, the executive’s office and legal counsel.

“The board of education is very excited with the opportunity to secure Built To Learn funds in support of the capital plan for Wicomico County Public Schools,” said Micah Stauffer, the school system’s chief finance and operations officer. “This is good news for everyone involved tonight.”

He continued, “We are also excited to move forward with the long-awaited improvements to Mardela Middle and High School on behalf of the anxiously awaiting Mardela community. After over a year of briefings, updates and various meetings among multiple stakeholders including the county council, a memorandum of understanding that is required to access the Built to Learn funds is ready for authorization by Wicomico County Government.”

When asked if BTL funds were distributed each year, Ashby said it was a one-time allotment.

Rhe council voted unanimously to approve the MOU.

“This has been a long time coming,” Councilman Josh Hastings said. “And for those of us who have graduated and came from Mardela, this is really great to be able to see this.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.