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Misplaced priorities

April 07, 2003

Less that a year into his first term, we are already growing reluctant to criticize the statements of Washington County Commissioner John Munson.

Not that some of them don't deserve criticism, but in the same way that shooting a deer tied to a stake would be less than sporting, Munson has proven so adept at making himself a target that it almost seems cruel to follow through.

That said, Munson's comments last week about the county's priorities cannot go unanswered, because they're just plain wrong.

In an interview, Munson said that education is No. 3 on the county's priority list, behind the county sheriff's and roads departments.

If that were true, the county shouldn't spend the bulk of its general fund cash on education. But county boards have done so for years, for several reasons. The first is that it is no longer possible to go onto the factory floor, get on-the-job training and make a good living.

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Not only does the manufacturing sector of the local economy employ far fewer than it once did, but the jobs that remain require a new set of skills, like the ability to run computer-controlled equipment, for example. Untrained workers often end up in warehouse jobs - honest work, yes, but which don't pay enough to raise a family.

Education must be the county's top priority because due to changes in the American family, schools are being called on to do many things parents once did, like feeding children breakfast and teaching them values.

Is that a fair burden for the system? No, but if the schools don't do it, who will? And if no one does it, then there will be more uneducated people turning to crime and making more work for Munson's top priority, the sheriff's' department.

And so if the county is going to prosper, it needs a population that is more educated, not less. Last year Frederick County's median income was $60,276, about $20,000 higher than it was here. Is it a coincidence that 30 percent of that county's residents have four-year college degrees, as opposed to 14.6 percent here? We doubt it.

None of this is to say that the school system's budget shouldn't be scrutinized. By all means, do that, but don't forget what this county's real top priority should be - education.

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