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Our View: Fully Fund the schools

April 30, 1999

Sometime between now and next Tuesday, the Washington County Commissioners will make a final decision on their 1999-2000 budget. For a number of reasons, they ought to fully fund the school system's request.

When this new county board took office, we had high hopes that the old pattern of accusations and recriminations between the commissioners and the school board would be replaced by something like a real dialogue. We see the outlines of that emerging in the statements of Commissioner John Schnebly and School Board President Edwin Hayes, but the current snail's pace of progress is not good enough.

We say that because after hiring a new school superintendent, the school board enlisted more than 100 local citizens to write a strategic plan, which they've begun to implement, a plan that will ensure that fifth graders in Hancock and Smithsburg are both learning the same lesson, on the same day of the school year.

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The school system also began a new process that brought interested parents at each school together to provide input on their students' needs, to build a school system budget that considered individual schools' needs first, as opposed to the top-down budgets of previous years.

None of this was accomplished easily. Teachers, citizens and school administrators have spent thousands of hours rebuilding a system that an outside agency's 1997 audit found in need of some serious work. Enthusiasm for the schools and a commitment to them has grown in the past two years, an enthusiasm that needs to be encouraged and nurtured.

The best way to do that is to fully fund the school system budget. It would not only be an investment in the future, but an expression of trust and confidence in the school system's top management. It would also be a morale booster for system employees who've watched the erosion of their salary scale under previous boards.

We are sensitive to Commissioner Schnebly's desire to have the system agree to standards, but in reality, fully funding the school system budget will remove any excuse the system has now for not improving. Let the commissioners vote for full funding now.

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