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Can school candidates answer tough questions?

February 11, 2004

Given a chance to answer a hpothetical question about whether they'd cut school-level staff or programs to balance the Washington County school system's budget, some Board of Education candidates chose not to speak up.

That's disppointing. Campaigns are like employment interviews and if you want to impress the boss - in this case the voters - you've got to talk about how you would handle the job.

Candidate Gary Nally was correct in saying that in the real world, these decisions require a collaborative effort on the part of the School Board, the superintendent and senior staff. The public will be consulted as well before any major programs are done away with.

But what reporter Scott Butki and The Herald-Mail sought was a look at the candidates' priorities and their approaches to fiscal problems.

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Members W. Edward Forrest and W. Princeton Young declined to offer detailed answers, while other candidates said they didn't have enough specific information on what programs might be expendable.

In contrast, incumbents Bernadette Wagner and Roxanne Ober said they would defer the implementation or programs like elementary-school Spanish, pre-kindergarten and instrument al music.

Others, including George W. "Bill" Sonnik III, targeted personnel, saying that if needed, he would support cutting back on the use of substitute teachers by having administrators and counselors fill in when needed. Barry C. Harbaugh would cut vice principals.

The Rev. Blaine Feightner offered the most novel idea, saying he would ask every employee to work one hour every pay period for free, on the idea that all would share equally in the sacrifice.

Teresa Spruill said she would seek corporate partners to fund some of the system's programs.

Whatever you think of any of these responses, consider this: Candidates who have an idea about what should be done, even if it turns out to be wrong, are at least giving the voters an idea of how they would perform when they're in office and facing the tough questions.

Please remember that next Sunday, when candidates will be asked if they'd restore any programs that have already been cut, and if so, how they'd pay for them. We await their answers with great interest.

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