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As School Board race begins, two guidelines for candidates

December 30, 2003

After much concern that there might not be a contested election for the Washington County School Board's four open seats, 16 filed by the Dec. 22 deadline.

Before the first candidate questionnaire goes out, before the first forum is held, we strongly suggest two things: First, that the campaign should be based on facts and research and not on slogans and hearsay. And second, that working well with the funding agency - the Washington County Commissioners - should be a prerequisite for election.

We emphasize the need for research because for too long we have listened to candidates for local office make the vague assertion that the school system spends "too much money on administrative salaries."

What we've heard very little of is how Washington County's administrative payroll compares with those of other Maryland school systems.

Does Washington County have more administrators per 1,000 pupils than other systems, or less? Does Washington County have only the administrators that state law requires, or are there more, in posts that aren't required by law? To get the answers to these and other questions, candidates will have to do some research, which will go a long way toward proving their fitness - or lack of same - for the office they seek.

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The second task for candidates is to show that they have the ability to work with the County Commissioners on funding issues. In the past some School Boards have tried to shame the county board into fully funding their requests, a strategy that hasn't really worked all that well.

Now the School Board must not only lobby for operating funds, it must also convince the commissioners that it makes sense to thoroughly discuss its construction funding plan.

This is not to say that we endorse that plan, which would depend on issuing new bonds. But it does deserve more serious discussion than it has gotten so far. When it was presented to the commissioners in October, they brushed it off with less than one minute's discussion. School Board candidates who seek credibility must convince voters that they can get a fair hearing for the school system's plans.

School board service pays less than $5,000 a year in return for a heavy workload and plenty of responsibility. We thank all those who care enough about local students' future to run.

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