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A bathroom controversy

August 29, 2003

Is the installation of a personal bathroom for Washington County School Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan really an issue? Yes, but not for the reason that you might think.

The bathroom, installed for what school system officials say was less than $1,500, became an issue with some school employees who'd been reduced to part-time status. Rumors swirled about the powder room, which tales said included a $6,000 toilet and marble floors.

That idea was debunked by Morgan's tour of the facility with Sheila Metzel, president of Educational Support Personnel Local No. 1. Metzel told Morgan that those spreading the rumor were concerned by the possibility that at a time when the school system faced a budget crunch, scarce cash was spent on something extravagant.

As Metzel found that wasn't true, Morgan learned something, too - that some employees' shift to part-time status cost them medical benefits. Morgan promised she'd do what she could to restore them.

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We have two thoughts on this matter. The first is that it's not unusual to have a private bathroom for a top executive, who often has to go from one meeting to another, from morning until evening, without time to go home to change clothes, etc.

The other is that someone on the School Board or staff needs to make the superintendent aware of the possible consequences of some of their proposals. In this case, workers lost medical benefits, which no doubt saved the system money.

The unintended consequence of that decision may be that some dedicated employees will be forced to seek employment elsewhere and that their part-time replacements will not share their commitment to the schools and the students here.

Do Washington County residents want a series of part-time employees working in close proximity to their children or dedicated, full-time staffers? To us the answer is clear, though where the School Board will find the cash to restore benefits is not.

As they search, the board should consider the fact that these people are not only employees, but ambassadors for the school system. How they're treated will determine whether many in the community will focus on workers' distress or on the real news - that test scores are improving and the dropout rate is falling.

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