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School board candidates field questions at forum

October 22, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - At a forum Thursday, the candidates for four Washington County Board of Education seats told how they, if elected, would try to address the impact increasing student enrollment would have on the board's budget.

About 100 people attended the forum, the third of three scheduled this month. The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Washington County, the Washington County Teachers Association, the Washington County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations and the Western Maryland AFL-CIO Labor Council.

Board President Edward Forrest, 41, Vice President Roxanne Ober, 44, and board member Bernadette Wagner, 47, are seeking re-election. All three live in Hagerstown.

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The incumbents are being challenged by: Wayne Ridenour, 53, of Williamsport; William Staley, 60, of Hagerstown; former board member Thomas Berry, 72, of Rohrersville; Teresa Spruill, 46, of Smithsburg; and Barry C. Harbaugh, 45, of Clear Spring.

The eight candidates and Tom Janus, a registered write-in candidate who lost in the primary, attended the forum.

According to the School Board, the entire school system grew at a rate of 2.1 percent from Sept. 30, 2003 to Sept. 30, 2004, an increase of 426 students. As of Sept. 30, the system's enrollment was 20,310 students. The enrollment is expected to increase by 547 students by Sept. 30, 2005.

Harbaugh said he would pressure the leaders of the county government and other local municipalities to charge fees to developers to pay for the impact on the school system. He also would consider selling naming rights for school facilities to private companies, he said.

Wagner said the Board of Education must work collaboratively with the Washington County Commissioners to try to get additional funds. To address increased enrollment, the Board of Education might need to consider increasing the size of some classes by one or two students, Wagner said.

Ridenour said impact fees and an ordinance in municipalities requiring developers to pay costs are good ideas which he would support. But people should be aware those fees are essentially taxes since developers will pass the cost on to the buyers, he said.

Forrest said he supports impact fees since developers have a responsibility to pay for their impact on the community. Some of the developers in Washington County are "fleeing impact fees" elsewhere, he said.

Staley said the Board of Education needs to learn to work within its budget since it is uncertain whether it will get additional money.

Janus said the question should not be where the Board of Education can get more money but how the money is currently being spent.

Spruill said she supports impact fees and has seen them work successfully in other communities.

Ober said the Board of Education needs to find an alternative to the current temporary solution of adding portable classrooms to address growth needs. She said the board is considering adding 10 portables to South Hagerstown High School.

Berry said the Board of Education should be telling the County Commissioners how much money it needs and let that body worry about how to supply it.

"We do not want to get into the business of telling them how to do their job," Berry said.

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