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Thomas running for commissioner

May 19, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Hagerstown native Andrew P. Thomas has launched a bid for the Republican nomination for Washington County Commissioner, promising that if elected, he would increase support for the public schools.

Thomas, 34, a sales manager at Bankers Life and Casualty, said he learned firsthand the challenges facing education when he spent three years as a math teacher in North Carolina. Low pay and classes that averaged as many as 28 students forced him to leave the profession, he said.

Work as a substitute teacher in Washington County convinced him that the problems he faced in North Carolina aren't isolated, Thomas said.

"The same problems we had down there exist here," he said. "I'm very pro-teacher and pro-child Teachers have more responsibility than ever before. Teachers in this county are grossly underpaid."

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Thomas pointed to statistics showing that starting teacher salaries in Washington County rank 21st out of 24 school districts in the state.

Thomas praised the commissioners for their decision last week to add another $1 million to the schools budget. He said county government should work toward reducing class sizes and boosting salaries while staying within its means.

He said he opposes raising taxes, preferring to trim spending. He said he does not have proposals for specific spending cuts yet.

Thomas said he would concentrate on trying to attract high-paying jobs to the county. He said he agrees with County Commissioner James R. Wade's recent criticism of the county's record of attracting warehouses.

Thomas said he experienced the Catch-22 that seems to exist: As a graduate of Shippensburg University, he said he wanted to remain in the Tri-State area, but could not find a job.

Some analysts have suggested high-paying firms, which would provide opportunities for college graduates, stay away from the county because of its comparatively low education base.

"I don't know why we don't (attract better jobs) in this county, because we're in a great location. Maybe we need to set our goals higher," Thomas said.

Thomas said there is no easy answer to the county's $53 million water and sewer debt. But he said rates should not rise as quickly for senior citizens dependent on Social Security. Rapid increases in water and sewer bills can make it harder to put food on the table, he said.

"Unfortunately, that's a frightening reality for many people in this area. I deal with them every day," he said.

Thomas said he opposes using taxpayer money to finance a new minor league baseball stadium for the Hagerstown Suns.

"My mission is simple: I'm a people person and I intend with an ethical conscience to represent the people of Washington County," he said. "They deserve to be well-represented."

Candidates have until July 6 to file.

The top five candidates from each party in the Sept. 15 primary will square off in the general election on Nov. 3.

The job pays $20,000 a year.

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