Cuts to vocational, arts programs addressed

February 15, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

Editor's Note: This is the third of a four-part series in which the 15 candidates running for the Washington County Board of Education talk about education-related issues. Next Sunday: Are teaching for knowledge and teaching for a test the same thing? What is happening in Washington County Schools today?

If candidates for the Washington County Board of Education had the opportunity, they would restore vocational and arts programs to the schools' offerings, they said during a phone survey.

The primary election will be March 2, with eight of the candidates advancing to the Nov. 2 general election.

The 15 candidates for four open seats on the board all were asked the same question: "Are there programs the school system has cut which you would restore, if elected? How would you pay for them?"

Richard Bruce Grassby said he would restore vocational training courses.

For funding, he first would see if there could be more money obtained from the state government or private sources, said Grassby, 68, of Hagerstown.


To pay for restoring programs, he would consider pushing for a county tax increase, he said. But before that, he would suggest the Board of Education justify to taxpayers how it spends its money, he said.

"You have to sell your programs to the taxpayer," Grassby said.

"I am very focused on seeing that the Technical High School is more fully utilized. Programs have been dropped there because of declining enrollment," George "Bill" Sonnik III said.

Sonnik, 57, of Williamsport, said he would like to see programs, like one that had been offered teaching masonry, restored.

"If a class were to reopen, funding would be sought from the business partners and also requested in state funds. I am told that the salary portion of the funding is extremely difficult to obtain in these tight budget times. Creative means must be sought to ensure adequate funding without harming instruction," said Sonnik, a member of the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Board of Education from 1994 to 2002.

Candidate Gary Nally objected to the question. He also objected to a prior question in which candidates were asked whether they would cut programs or school-level staff in a tough budget year.

"The challenge this week for each candidate to identify programs for restoration and the manner in which to provide funding is again speculative and unwise," Nally, 46, of Williamsport, said as part of an answer sent by e-mail.

"These decisions are a collaborative effort of the superintendent, administrative staff and BOE members after a diligent review of each program's respective performance within the system," he said.

"Funding will continue to be an ongoing fiscal challenge and should not be misconstrued as being controlled by any individual BOE member or the WCPS system. This is the responsibility of all tax-paying residents within Washington County," he said in the e-mail response.

Restoring music

Elizabeth Lay said she wants to restore instrumental music to the elementary schools.

Lay, 45, of Clear Spring, is executive director of the Washington County Arts Council.

For funding help, Lay would approach the National String Project Consortium, which she described as an association of string instructors that pairs schools with colleges, in an attempt to increase the availability of instrumental music programs.

If that does not work, Lay would seek other types of grant funding, she said.

"Having only been in Washington County for two years and not having any children in the schools, this is a difficult question for me to answer," Teresa Spruill said in a statement.

She has heard that arts and music programs have been eliminated from the elementary schools, she said.

"Many recent studies have indicated the advantages of these programs in creating well-rounded students and certainly colleges require some courses in these areas for just that reason," said Spruill, 45, of Smithsburg. "So these are definitely programs which need to be reintroduced."

"I am not sure exactly what the cost would be to reintroduce these programs, but it is a cost that needs to be added to the budget and funded like other educational programs are currently being funded," she said.

Barry C. Harbaugh said he would restore vocational programs because they are good for students who do not plan to attend college. Carpentry and other hands-on work is important for students to be able to learn, he said.

He would approach local unions to see if they would help with paying for the instruction, or even providing it themselves, said Harbaugh, 44, of Clear Spring. He would remind the unions that having such classes would be similar to having an early apprenticeship program, he said.

Harbaugh said he also would try to find a way to restore arts and music programs to the schools, working with private organizations such as the Washington County Arts Council to help pay for classes and programs.

'Traditional' trades

William H. Staley said he would work to bring back "traditional" trades to the schools.

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