October 31, 2004

The School Board

Although the position doesn't pay as much as a seat on the Board of County Commissioners, it's not hard to make the case that the Board of Education is the most important elected body in Washington County.

The School Board spends more than 70 percent of all local tax revenues on a task that's vitally important to the future of this county - educating local schoolchildren. In 2004, a high school diploma is just the start of the training needed to prepare a student for employment.

College and/or advanced technical training is also necessary, but if the local school system doesn't do its job, students won't succeed - and neither will the county. Employers who have good jobs to provide always look at the percentage of local people who have advanced degrees and/or technical training. If they don't see a percentage that's high enough, they'll take what they've got elsewhere.


There are four open seats on the Board of Education and those running include three incumbents - Edward Forrest, Roxanne Ober and Bernadette Wagner. For the fine job they've done, they deserve the community's thanks and our endorsement.

They hired a new superintendent and were smart enough not to try to micromanage the system, as members of some previous boards did. On their watch, test scores have risen, the dropout rate has fallen and the board has instituted a dress code, which sends students the message that education is serious business.

Is what has been accomplished enough? Even they would agree that it is not. SAT scores are essentially flat and English/verbal scores aren't where they should be. There's work to do, but given their record, we feel Forrest, Ober and Wagner are up to the job.

That leaves the fourth slot. None of the challengers - Thomas Berry, Barry Harbaugh, Teresa Spruill, William Staley and Wayne Ridenour - has mounted anything like a public campaign to tell voters why they should be elected.

But in his replies to questionnaires and in forums, Ridenour has demonstrated that he has the experience, both inside the school system and in private business, to be a valuable addition. And at a time when some teachers feel they have little voice in the changes being made to accommodate the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Ridenour promises to be their voice on the board. He has our endorsement.

6th Congressional District

Kenneth Bosley, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Roscoe Bartlett for the 6th District congressional seat, has been nearly invisible during the current campaign. If Bosley has sent a letter or a press release to The Herald-Mail offices since the March primary, we haven't seen it.

One of Bosley's few public statements in the campaign came at the June picnic of the South County Democratic Club, during which he called Bartlett a "draft dodger" because the 78-year-old incumbent didn't serve in World War II. Bosley also said Bartlett is a "rubber stamp" for the Bush administration.

The question of Bartlett's military service (or lack of same) was dealt with when he ran against Thomas Hattery of Frederick. Barring some new evidence, it's too late to raise it now.

Has Bartlett been a "rubber stamp" for the Bush administration? And if that's true, why is it a bad thing? We're not arguing that the president has a perfect track record, but to make his charge stick, Bosley needs to say what was done wrong and why. If he's done that, we haven't seen his arguments - in print, on TV or in person.

The same goes for Gregory J. Hemingway of the Green Party. If your object as a candidate is to provide voters with an alternative and make them think, you actually have to communicate with them. If he's been to Hagerstown, he must have come under cover of darkness and left the same way.

Bartlett is not a master legislator, but if you polled the people of the 6th District, we have no doubt that he accurately reflects their views. And he's acted quietly, on issues like the redevelopment of Fort Ritchie, to push for progress, bringing in a parade of federal agencies as prospective tenants. His constituent service has been top-drawer as well. In this race he's the best contender, and therefore gets our endorsement.

The U.S. Senate

In the race for one of Maryland's two seats in the U.S. Senate, incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski faces off against Republican state Sen. E.J. Pipkin.

Pipkin, a former Wall Street bond trader, is an engaging person in interviews and by all accounts a tireless campaigner. But Pipkin only took office as a member of the Maryland General Assembly a year and a half ago and his track record in office is a short one. His party will certainly bless him for taking on Mikulski, but other than battling then-Gov. Parris Glendening on the issue of dumping dredged material into the Chesapeake Bay - a fight Pipkin won with $100,000 of his own cash - his list of accomplishments, politically speaking, is a small one.

By contrast, Mikulski has brought a lot of federal money to this district, including helping to provide $2 million to Mack Trucks to develop a diesel-electric powertrain for military and commercial use and $184,000 in federal grants to local fire companies.

Mikulski has also been willing to listen to the concerns of Washington County and has staffed her local office with top people who've gone on to serve this region in other important roles.

The alumni group of her former staffers includes Kathleen Hall, who later headed up the local United Way campaign, and Brien Poffenberger, the new executive director of the Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

In both cases, Mikulski chose strong, competent people who not only served her well, but who also did good things for the community. Pipkin doesn't seem like a bad fellow, but he should serve out his first term in the Maryland Senate before trying for national office. Our endorsement goes to Mikulski.

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