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A slap at the School Board

October 23, 2003

Like a child who gets his hand slapped for trying to snatch an extra cookie, the Washington County School Board got slapped down on Tuesday by the Washington County Commissioners, who spent less than two minutes on a proposal to increase funding for school repair and construction.

Did the School Board's plan have some flaws? Maybe. But without some exploration, who knows what they are? From the little bit of discussion that took place on Tuesday, we can only surmise that the commissioners concluded, based on their gut feelings, that it wasn't a good idea.

For a group whose members get $30,000 each to oversee the county's business, that's not good enough, especially when previous county boards have consistently left state construction money unclaimed by not providing a local match.

The School Board's proposal would have sought the issuance of $25 million in bonds backed by the State of Maryland's constitutional guarantee to provide aid to the schools.

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The county's obligation would be to provide $1.7 million a year for the bond repayment - about the same amount as is being spent to subsidize the sewer fund each year.

Is there a need for more school spending? Yes. After a long period of no enrollment growth, the number of local housing starts tripled in the last three years, adding hundreds of new students to the rolls.

Many students are attending class in aging facilities that don't have air conditioning or even fire-safety sprinkler systems. Hundreds more are expected as the pace of home building increases. School officials are already planning a second building on the campus of Eastern Elementary School. How that project will be funded is unknown now.

Here's what really irks us, and what should upset every taxpaying citizen: The School Board saw a problem, worked on a solution and presented it in plenty of time for a discussion by the commissioners prior to the county board's meeting with the local General Assembly delegation.

And the reward for trying to work as professional partners? A curt dismissal, as if the plan had been crafted by some uninformed derelict. Would it be a surprise if the Board of Education reverted to the practice of some past School Board members who reacted to adverse funding decisions by trying to paint the commissioners as heartless cads who didn't care for kids?

The reward for professional behavior and a thoughtful presentation should not be the political equivalent of a slap in the face. Commissioner James Kercheval, the only county board member to express interest in the idea, should stand up and ask for a reconsideration.

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