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Editorial - Try talking face-to-face

December 18, 1997

Before the debate on funding for the Washington County school system goes any further, let's turn the volume down. If each side begins assumes the other isn't acting in good faith, then the county will be headed down the same old road traveled by the county commissioners and schools board members in years past.

Repeatedly each side accused the other of (either) fiscal irresponsibility or not caring about the children. Frankly, it didn't do the schools much good. It's time to start over, with voices lowered.

On Tuesday, the county commissioners, led by James R. Wade, warned the school board not to come in with an "impossible" request. He noted that the county board had agreed to give an additional $750,000 to South Hagerstown High if the school system would deliver a three-year spending plan and a "reasonable" budget request for next year.

Wade and other board members are reacting a push for funding that begin in June when Sharon Chirgott, the new leader of the Washington County Teachers Association, said one of her main priorities would be raising teacher pay scale, after two years of no raises.

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Shortly after Dr. Herman Bartlett Jr. was named, he signed a letter along with representatives of the teachers, adminstrators and classified employees, calling for additional funding. Finally on Dec. 14, Theresa Flak, the assistant superintendent for instruction, wrote a column praising the system's improved performance received on recent state tests. In it, she said that "we simply cannot expect survive on 47 percent of the county's meager budget..." The school forces may not be as blunt as Wade, but it's clear the push is on.

Let us suggest that it is time for Bartlett to make good on his pledge to attend county commissioner meetings. More cash is needed - to fix a teacher salary scale among the lowest in the state and to fund a program to boost elementary kids' reading and math skills. But getting it will require face-to-face diplomacy instead of long-distance sniping. If Bartlett can do that, his time in the commissioners' chamber will be well-spent.

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