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Board of Ed seeks help from delegation

December 01, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County school system officials are feeling a little squeezed.

Meeting with members of the Washington County Delegation to the General Assembly on Tuesday, county Board of Education members and administrators told the lawmakers that demands placed on the school system both by development and federal mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act are making life difficult for county educators.

They said the system needs to recruit and retain qualified teachers, and it needs more classroom space.

The school board has been asking legislators since September to consider legislation to revise the state pension system because county schools are losing teachers to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, where pensions are higher.

School board member Paul Bailey said he believed that the number of teachers who left Washington County schools between the first and fifth years of their careers was tied to the pension system.

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Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, agreed that the pension system should be strengthened. "But don't expect it this year," he said. He said he was unaware of any legislative effort to either cut or strengthen the system.

School officials also want the delegation to resurrect a law allowing retired educators to be rehired. The law aided school systems with teacher shortages, but was allowed to lapse after reported abuses in other counties.

"Sunsetting that was an absolute disaster," said Claude Sasse, president of the Washington County Teachers Association.

"We can't emphasize enough how desperate we are in this county," school board Vice President Roxanne Ober said.

Munson said he believed the Senate was interested in reinstituting the measure.

"I just have a feeling that this is going to move forward," he said.

School officials pressed the case for capital improvements necessitated by new development, asking if the state could help pay for them. But they got no firm commitments from the lawmakers, although they noted that tax revenues are increasing, and that Thornton money - allocated to address inequities in county school systems - likely would be fully funded.

Delegation Chairman Christopher Shank suggested that school officials work with the Washington County Commissioners on revisions to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, which levies a fee on new development to help pay for schools and infrastructure.

"You should be involved in the discussions rather than wait for the commissioners to come up with a plan," he said.

School officials said they don't have authority to force the commissioners to include them or to target APFO revenue for education, and asked the delegation to push the matter.

"We can be at the table but we're not equal partners at the table," said school board member Bernadette Wagner.

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