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A class system in the classroom?

June 23, 1997

So the Washington County Board of Education wants to put ads on school buses now, does it?

At least board members said they would prefer doing that over a proposal from County Commissioner Jim Wade that parents pay for their kids' books and busing costs.

"I'm afraid if we start having the ability to charge for textbooks, we'll be breaking the school down into (social) classes," said board member Dori Nipps. "I would consider ads on buses and on baseball fields before I would consider that."

I love this idea more than I can say.

And I think it would make things easier on the kids. Instead of remembering all those troublesome bus numbers, they could identify their ride by the placard on the side.

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"Just remember Chauncy, you take the Marlboro bus to Sharpsburg, where you'll transfer to the Robinwood Medical Center Gynecology Associates bus to Halfway, where the Colt .45 Malt Liquor bus will pick you up and take you on to South." What could be simpler than that?

Since the buses are already yellow, I'll bet the Chiquita fruit company would sign on in a heartbeat. It could put a couple of plaster stems in either end of the bus and make it look like a big banana rolling down the highway. They could even play a little tune, like the ice cream trucks. Have the Latin lady on the roof singing: "I'm Chiquita Banana and I'm here to say/you do good in my class and I will give you an A."

Still, I'm not convinced Wade's idea of making parents pay for textbooks is a bad one. Yeah, yeah, you can argue that some lower-income parents and single moms won't be able to afford it.

But think back to when you were in school. The poor kids never opened their textbooks to begin with, remember? (Neither did I, but that's beside the point.) Don't give me your "equal protection" this and your "land of opportunity" that. Poor kids only pull themselves up by their bootstraps in the movies. In fact, why send poor kids to school in the first place?

The way I reckon it, Washington County spends almost $5,500 per student each year. So you identify the 727 poorest students and let them draw their pictures of war scenes and cause their discipline problems at home and, voila, you've saved the system $4 million. And the rich kids will be able to learn with fewer distractions. What's not to like?

Makes as much sense as anything else local governments are doing.

Parents should understand that all the school board and the County Commissioners and the legislative delegation need to do is tax gambling in Washington County at the same reasonable rate that everyone else taxes gambling and you would raise close to that same $4 million. The $4 million could go toward the sewer debt, freeing up $4 million for schools. Problem solved. The poorest 727 kids could go back to school and get free textbooks to boot and maybe we could finally stop hearing all those confounded threats to the confounded Outdoor School (Funny, I thought all schools were outdoors).

County Commissioner Jim Wade, the best of the bunch, mentioned "guts" in deciding on alternative funding for schools.

What takes guts is having the chutzpah to promote slapping additional fees for books and buses on parents while letting the county's tax-free gambling houses continue to rake in unearned millions just by providing a roof under which the wagering public can shred paper tips.

Angry parents make for an angry electorate and an angry electorate makes for a nervous slate of incumbents. Parents, taxpayers and sewer customers alike should have three words for our local elected officials: "Tax gambling fairly."

If they don't act, those yellow buses aren't going to be an ad for bananas, they're going to be an ad for our local politicians.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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