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editorial - mail 2/28/01

February 27, 2001

School system should post its budget, other info on web



For the second year in a row, the Washington County Board of Education will use a telephone survey to get input on its proposed operating budget. But no one should believe this is a scientific survey of citizens' preferences because the participants aren't selected at random. Those who participate are those who choose to call in.

At best this is a method to stir interest in the budget process, but a better one might be to share more budget material - or material related to the school system in general - on the board's web site.

At present, those who want a copy of the school board budget must journey to the board's officie at 820 Commonwealth Ave. in Hagerstown. The same is true of many documents, of the type that retired teacher and school board candidate Russell Williams sought back in January.

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Williams wanted a copy of the informational packet given to school board members at every regular meeting. As a candidate, he'd received it for free, but after his defeat, he was told that he'd have to pay 10 cents a page for each sheet in it.

To forestall that charge, Williams filed for office again. Now the school system is considering some sort of charge for everyone who wants the material.

This isn't the sort of citizen-friendly atmosphere the board should be developing. These documents should be posted on the school board's web site, where interested citizens like Williams can read them and download them if desired, on their own paper.

Would this require additional work? School officials say it would require everyone to use a standardized format for outputting material from their computers and some staff time to post it to the web.

Would that time be worth the cost? It depends on what that cost is, and on how many citizens access the site. But posting material to a web site can't be all that complicated, considering the number of sites that are updated on a regular basis. And keep in mind that this telephone survey alone will cost $3,500.

If the school system can't do this, it should be prepared to explain exactly why it isn't possible.

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