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editorial - dail

y mail - 4/11/01

April 10, 2001

School merger backers cannot just sell savings



The proposal for school consolidations in Washington County continues to move forward in fits and starts, with school officials promising change and budget savings.

So far they've failed to make the case that consolidated schools will be as good or better than the ones they would replace, although School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner has started to do that.

In a Monday night meeting with parents in Hagerstown's West End, Wagner said that the new schools would be four-round schools, which means that they would have four sections of each grade. That would mean more planning time for teachers and make it possible to use full-time teachers subjects like art and physical education, she said.

For parents concerned about fitness and the role that the arts play in education, those changes would be a plus, changes that Wagner is saying would only be possible in a larger, consolidated school.

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Harold Phillips, a Clear Spring man who formerly worked on economic development with the State of Maryland, has long argued that consolidating schools will save enough money to allow the system to raise teachers' salaries, enabling the school system to bring the best and brightest young educators here without raising taxes every year.

Selling the public on either of those propositions will mean doing more than holding meetings in which school officials talk about which students will be moved where. Parents need to be told about school systems which have successfully operated consolidated schools and the benefits they've experienced as a result. As former school board candidate Russell Williams has argued, Washington County should be finding and copying other systems' successes, not trying to re-invent the wheel here.

And finally, the debate over consolidation should not include buildings like the Marshall Street School, a facility for special needs students. Let those students alone, because the strong emotions stirred up over the possibility of changing their familiar routine will be a major distraction the forces of consolidation don't need.

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