County school reforms depend on funding

July 02, 1998

by JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer


Empty classroomBy GUY FLETCHER / Staff Writer


Not only does it pay the bills, put dinner on the table and fill the car with gas, it also buys textbooks, pays teacher salaries and helps schools keep up with technological advances.

It's no surprise, then, that the current educational reform drive in Washington County public schools likely will hinge on how much money the school system will need to spend for new positions and programs that will be suggested by 10 committees studying the school system.


--cont from front page--

No one is predicting what the cost will be, but many agree it could easily run into the millions of dollars.

"There's some stuff in here that's going to cost some big bucks," said Washington County Board of Education member Doris J. Nipps.

It will be up to Nipps and others to sell the measures, and their price tags, to the Washington County Commissioners and the public when the final report is released in October.

That report will be the work of more than 100 people in the community, including school officials, parents, teachers, students and business leaders.

"I'm hoping those will be some of the folks who will be beating the drum to the community and the County Commissioners," Nipps said.

Not everything being proposed by the committees will carry a high price tag. For example, many of the new policies likely to be requested by the committees can be approved with little expense.

But the nuts and bolts of the recommendations - more teachers, more staff development, more computers - is what the community will be asked to ante up for if it wants better schools.

"We can do all the planning. We can do all the recommendations. But if we're not going to have the funds to make these changes, what good has it all done?" said Donna Gelwicks, a Hagerstown resident who has two children in the school system.

Several people serving on the committees are hopeful that by studying the school system, and by making recommendations supported by firm data, the school board can avoid its annual budget battle with the County Commissioners, who fund about half of the school's operating budget.

In fact, the County Commissioners have frequently requested that the school board develop long-range plans, especially in developing budgets.

"This is what the commissioners have asked for," Gelwicks said.

County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, a frequent critic of the school system, said he sees a major flaw in the committees' work: No one has considered looking into areas where the budget could be cut.

"It's all about how we're going to spend money," he said.

Bowers, who is a member of the committee studying curriculum, said he would like to see a system developed under which existing programs and processes are reviewed to see if they can be reduced or cut.

The school board wouldn't lose any money because any savings would be reinvested in the form of grants to schools.

"Where the cuts are made, you keep the money. It just goes back to schools," Bowers said.

Otherwise, Bowers applauded the effort to get the community more involved in finding solutions. He said the addition of new staff over the past year, particularly Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr., has given the school system a renewed commitment to solving its problems.

"There's no reason now why this whole thing can't work," Bowers said.

Among the skeptics is Janice T. Cirincione, a board member from 1988 to 1996, who believes the enormous undertaking could "collapse under its own weight," with the school board failing to follow through on the recommendations from the committees.

"The board has to be able to listen and take these recommendations and act on them," Cirincione said.

In the end, the political realities of the effort might be what saves it, supporters said. They believe involving such a wide range of community and business leaders in the discussions will give the call for reform measures more clout - with both the school board and the community at large.

"We got people who want something to be done and will make sure it is done, to be put in blunt terms," said Michael G. Callas, president of Callas Contractors and co-chairman of the task force that is overseeing the 10 committees.

Callas and others said they will pitch the idea that improving the schools not only helps the 19,239 students in the system, but also the entire community, through improved quality of life and economic development.

"If we do a good enough job in improving this community, we'll have more people returning here and continuing to improve the community," said Stuart L. Mullendore, director of administrative services for Farmers & Merchants Bank and Trust, and a member of a committee studying technology issues in schools.

Doing nothing is not an option, they said.

"The problem is there. Whether we get the money or not, the problem is there," said Jenny Belliotti, president of the County Council of PTAs and the parent of two students at Fountaindale Elementary School.

"I have so much confidence, and I hope I'm not disappointed in the end," she added.

Theresa M. Flak, assistant superintendent for instruction, said, "You can't continue to do what you've always done and expect a different result."

The Herald-Mail Articles