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Md. lawmakers listen to school system requests

November 22, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

Ingredients in a formula for school improvement could include school leasing, better pensions and more money, Washington County Board of Education members told state lawmakers Monday.

The school system is losing experienced teachers to neighboring states with better pension packages, board member Roxanne R. Ober said.

"I don't think I'm saying anything that anyone doesn't know. It's absolutely abominable that we are at the bottom of the list, given the amount of wealth there is here in the state of Maryland," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington County.

Donoghue and other members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly met with school officials and the school board for a lunchtime discussion at Winter Street Elementary School. Pensions, growing enrollment and the costs of implementing new state mandates highlighted the conversation.

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Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, the president and owner of a general contracting firm, said the school system must get ahead of rising construction costs as it anticipates growing enrollment. He advised school officials begin negotiating with builders now to make space for new students.

"If you don't ask, you don't know, and trust me, the developers aren't going to do anything if they're not asked," Myers said.

According to Chief Operating Officer G. William Blum, 164 fewer students enrolled for class this year than the school system projected. The school system's official Sept. 1 enrollment of 20,836 represents a 1.5 percent increase over last year's enrollment of 20,533, according to the school system.

Ober suggested the state separate its funding streams for maintenance and new construction. Despite the Washington County Commissioners' grant of $3.5 million earlier this year, Ober said the schools still need much more work.

"Although the money, we really appreciate it, it really doesn't address our aging infrastructure," Ober said. She said the board could benefit from having the authority to issue bonds. She said the board could have begun paying off the debt if the County Commissioners granted a request two years ago to issue bonds.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, called the bond idea "a recipe for disaster" under the current system and said he worried about Washington County incurring huge amounts of debt.

Myers contested board members' and school officials' suggestions that the state make it easier for retired teachers to return to the classroom in the county where they worked. The system has a hard time finding qualified teachers of subjects like math, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Patricia Abernethy said.

Myers said he was worried that retired, rehired teachers might take the jobs of new teacher applicants.

"What I'm saying is when you correct your short-term problem, who will say then to that teacher who's only 55 years old, 'We don't want you anymore?'" Myers asked.

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