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City, county officials ask how they can help schools

October 15, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

After similar reports from Washington County Public Schools officials about the system's performance, the rate at which its students move and the state of its buildings, city and county officials on Tuesday both applauded school officials' efforts and talked about how they might help.

Following each of the separate meetings with the Washington County Commissioners and the Hagerstown Mayor and City Council on Tuesday, both county and city officials congratulated the school system on receiving a favorable opinion from Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Olesker, who said the county school system is "a study in improvement."

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell thanked school staff for helping to develop a more up-to-date Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance document, which gauges what facilities in the county can handle development.

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City officials discussed developing a similar document that might help funnel funds to the school system, which is affected by development in the city.

Earlier in the School Board's meeting with the Mayor and City Council, William Blum, the school system's chief operating officer, told city officials that overcrowded, unrenovated schools within the city's limits should be considered by the city, in part, as their responsibility.

Mayor William M. Breichner said a future Hagerstown School for the Arts already is a high priority for the city.

County officials asked what time the School Board ideally would like to know their annual budget allocation following discussion that some summer staff changes seemed abrupt.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said drastic changes were made over the summer in response to smaller budgets, a late notice on some state funds and the federal No Child Left Behind act.

"We're doing things on a tight time frame," she said.

County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop said over the past six to seven years, notices of budget allocations have been given earlier as school officials requested. He said since this past year, with a new governor taking office, time frames were tightened for everyone.

Earlier in both meetings, the School Board and school system officials explained differences between the state's former standardized test, the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, which focused more on overall school system performance, and the latest exam, the Maryland School Assessment, which allows scores to be broken down into different ethnic and needs groups among students.

JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown, the school system's executive director of elementary education, said a big problem in county schools is students - mostly from impoverished families - who often move from school to school within one academic year.

The school system has been working to address that problem, however, she said, by starting a county-wide reading program this year that will help keep students who change schools frequently on the same page.

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