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Setting record straight on schools

November 11, 2002|By Roxanne Ober

Several months ago, The Herald-Mail invited Washington County School Board members to submit articles for publication to address education issues of importance to the community. The invitation has been a great opportunity for board members to provide the public with information, co-author pieces with prominent community leaders, clarify issues and correct misinformation. I would like to take the opportunity in this article to do the latter - that is, correct some misinformation.

In his editorial on Sunday, Oct. 20, Bob Maginnis discussed public school funding and quoted Bert Iseminger as having said, "Not only does the School Board seem to be doing well with the funding it has received...but the school system has added some new programs, like the Fountaindale Elementary 'magnet school,' that weren't in the original budget proposal."

The implication of Iseminger's words is that our school system doesn't really need any more funds than what it received from the county. He implied that we are doing so well that we even had enough money over and above our requested budget to create a signature program. This statement is far from accurate.

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Here are the facts: The Board's Proposed FY2003 Budget is a public document that was publicly presented, discussed, and submitted to the County Commissioners. It clearly includes allocations for "Instructional Enhancement" and "Signature Program Development," portions of which were designated to help create the signature program at Fountaindale.

This initiative was the first step in our long-term plan of creating signature programs throughout the county, and represents the mandate given to the board by the nearly 100 parents, teachers and stakeholders who served on our study groups last spring.

The funds allocated, however, came at a price. Board members did what families have to do when funds are limited. We identified our highest priorities and needs, and tightened our belts to do what was best for our students. We had to make some difficult decisions. Central staff positions were consolidated, and some vacancies were left unfilled. Funds were redeployed, and savings were sought everywhere possible, such as by instituting a four-day work week during the summer. As the Management Review Team discovered after examining our management functions, we run a very lean operation with virtually no room for cuts. To imply that the school system is well off is simply inaccurate.

There is one other item that I would like to address. As chairperson of the Board's Finance Committee, I can assure the public that this board has studied, evaluated and discussed cost saving measures and alternative revenues sources for the school system's budget. As we continuously strive to be fiscally responsible, the board welcomes suggestions from the public. However, some recommendations need to be researched for feasibility and reasonableness. I am referring specifically to a recent comment in The Herald-Mail made by John C. Munson. He stated that lighting school parking lots at night is a waste and that the school system should turn off the lights at night to save money.

Building codes require us to have certain lights on for 24 hours a day. Additionally, police and security experts advise us to keep lights on at night in order to deter assaults and vandalism.

Lighting, the safety experts tell us, is the most inexpensive form of security available for buildings and can save the school system tens of thousands of dollars in repairs.

Finally, staff and community members use many of our school buildings up until 11 p.m. We would be remiss if we did not take proper measures to keep them safe. I am pleased to have this platform available to communicate with the public. I hope that our stakeholders will not hesitate to communicate their good ideas and recommendations to the Board. You can contact us at 301-766-2994. We look forward to hearing from you.

Roxanne Ober is a member of the Washington County Board of Education.

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