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What do schools need?

May 13, 1997

We have cut all we can cut without affecting the quality of the education your child receives in the classroom. So say officials of the Washington County school system, who are campaigning hard for a tax increase and a greater share of the county government's budget. Now it's up to them to make that case with citizens at tonight's 7 p.m. public hearing at Hagerstown Junior College.

The commissioners have already given their tentative agreement to a hike in property and income taxes that would help produce about $1.9 million in new money for the schools. But school officials say that would leave the system $4.2 million less than it needs to fund its $104 million budget.

What will that mean to the average child? In a March 16 column in The Herald-Mail, School Superintendent Wayne Gersen said that the only areas left to cut are those that will affect children in the classrooms. Class sizes will increase, fewer electives will be offered and the best and brightest teachers will continue to teach locally only if they can't shift to another system in the region that is paying higher salaries. In tonight's hearing, Gersen and company have to get even more specific, pointing out their contingency plan - and they must have one - for increasing class sizes should their requests be denied.

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In that same commentary, Gersen pointed out that since 1991-92, the board has eliminated 16 custodial positions and 12 maintenance jobs. We'd also like to hear school officials comment on what expenses the system will be postponing until tomorrow if it continues to skimp on maintenance today.

Finally, what we don't want to hear is that the commissioners are heartless if they refuse to fund every penny of this request. With the water/sewer debt, that may be impossible. Nor do we want to see county officials stirring up resentment against teachers because they make more than the average worker. If anything, teachers need more respect, just as much as this county needs a discussion on school financing that is not about which set of adults wins the battle this month, but about how well the children will be served in the days and months to come.

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