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School Board must try a different path

April 02, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

Tonight at 7 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, the Washington County School Board will present its proposed operating budget to the county commissioners. The board will not get all that it seeks, but if the School Board can agree on a fresh approach, the school system may do better in the future.

When Herman Bartlett Jr. was superintendent, he argued that over the past decade, the percentage of the county's operating budget devoted to schools had dropped.

This made it an accounting debate, and in fact County Commissioner William Wivell developed his own set of numbers that purported to show that the school system was not as poorly funded as state figures indicated.

What will move the commissioners closer to the $5.78 million in new funds the School Board seek is an emphasis on what that money would buy. Will it reduce class sizes or create new progtrams to deal with unruly students? Will it provide new textbooks or safer buses?

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In the past the School Board has reacted to anything less than full funding of its budget by painting the commissioners as cheapskates who don't care about children.

In fact, the current county board has raised both property and real-estate taxes to provide additional school funding, and attempted to enact a real-estate transfer tax to provide more cash for school construction.

Just as donors to non-profit organizations have have begun to demand more information about how their dollars are used, taxpayers also want to know what the consequences of fully funding the school budget are. If it means more taxes, will it also mean better-edeucated students?

Due to the uncertain economy and the likelihood that the state will local cut aid, the county's offer of $1.4 mllion in new money may be increased a little bit, but not much. If the School Board relies less on numbers than on explanations of what the cash will buy, the more the commissioners are likely to yield.

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