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editorial - daily mail - 3/23/01

March 22, 2001

Schnebly remark opens way for frank talk on merger plan



Washington County Commissioner John Schnebly's statement that the public need not accept every detail of the proposed school-consolidation plan is welcome, because it opens the way for a real discussion of the problem, as opposed to an all-out war of opposition to the plan. We hope citizens take Schnebly's invitation seriously.

The problem is that school costs are rising faster than the government's ability to pay for them. County income and property taxes were both raised last year, something the county board won't do again this year unless there's a natural disaster of some sort.

With teacher salaries increasing (a hike that's overdue), there is only one other possible area of savings in education and that in the physical plants themselves. According to an analysis done by Harold Phillips, a former economic development specialist with the State of Maryland, the county operates too many schools with too few students.

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Savings are where you find them and now that this potential method of saving cash has been discovered, parents have a choice. They can insist on keeping all of the neighborhood schools, each with its own principal, chief custodian, counselor and school nurse, or they can accept some consolidation.

It's not just an either/or proposition, however. Keeping all existing schools will mean that citizens have to accept a higher cost of doing business each year and the ongoing maintenance costs for older buildings.

This is not to say that there aren't legitimate issues to be raised even if consolidation goes forward. When two schools are consolidated, with one of the existing buildings be enlarged. Or must officials find a new site for the merged school? Can bus routes be worked out so students don't spend hours on the bus?

Finally and most important, can the larger merged schools maintain the quality of education at current levels? Considering the trouble and expense involved, "maybe" isn't an acceptable answer to that question.

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