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Waiting isn't an option

May 27, 1997

After a testy session this past Tuesday which featured a series of outbursts and accusations, the Washington County Commissioners backed down from a proposal to hike the piggyback income tax from 50 to 54 percent.

That's good news for taxpayers who will still face a 10-cent property-tax hike, but the commissioners' decision not to hike income taxes or enact a real-estate transfer tax will mean cuts in school programs that are vital to improving education locally.

The Outdoor School may be a sentimental favorite, but the real damage will come from cutting an elementary school improvement grant program that would have provided extra help to students who need work on reading and math skills.

Expecting those students to improve without help is like expecting a leaky roof to seal itself. It may happen, but it's more likely that without remedial action, neither the student or the roof will perform up to standards.


Last year's Maryland School Performance Report shows what the county faces. Thirty percent of all students received free or reduced-price lunches, a group that usually needs more help than kids from homes with larger incomes. Fourteen percent of all students required special-education services, and only 26 percent of all graduating seniors planned to attend a four-year college.

We know statistics can be misleading; some of those special education students probably have problems that aren't severe and some students who don't attend four-year schools will go on to either a junior college or advanced technical training.

But if we don't improve reading and math skills of more students early in their academic careers, we will face the same problems noted in 1996 by School Superintendent Wayne Gersen, who said too many ninth graders were having problems with their writing and in understanding how government works.

We can't wait until the economy improves to address these problems. We'd like to see a group like the Washington County Public Schools Foundation look at alternative ways to fund math and reading help for elementary students who need it.

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