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Advocates for BOE change seek stronger voice on issues

February 11, 2006|By TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY -

Nobody ever said change would be easy.

This week, even talking about change has become "an extremely sensitive issue," said Donna Brightman, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) at Boonsboro High School.

Members of the CAC had approached Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick, about changing the method of electing Washington County Board of Education members from the current at-large system to a district system. School officials responded with a letter to Shank opposing such a move.

Weldon replied to the board's letter with a letter of his own, assuring board members that the bill he plans to draft only calls for a task force to study the issue.

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Discussion of a regionalized approach emerged from the council's efforts, beginning two years ago, to get local officials - such as the School Board and the county commissioners - to communicate better, she said. Believing Boonsboro schools weren't getting a big enough slice of the education pie, the group looked at budgets for schools beyond Boonsboro, and found other schools in outlying areas of the county had the same concerns, Brightman said.

"This isn't just a south county equity issue," she said.

So the council proposed a plan that would include five district and two at-large members on the seven-member board.

"At this point, we're saying let's talk about it, let's put it on the ballot," Brightman said. But if referendum is too much right now, she suggested a nonbinding straw poll that would give local officials an idea what voters want.

"The third option is a task force" to study the issue, Brightman said. "That would allow everybody to calm down."

It also would give School Board members a chance to voice their concerns about changing the system, Weldon's letter said.

It also could provide an opportunity to explore other issues, said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

"I see this whole issue of possibly looking at the future of education in Washington County," he said.

Munson saw valid points on both sides. "As people move into the county, they need to be engaged in education," he said. But changing the at-large system poses practical problems that haven't been adequately discussed, he said.

One problem is the expense of taking a census to form new districts, Munson said. "The cost would be high; several hundred thousand dollars, I would imagine."

The other problem is his belief that a district system wouldn't really spread representation around - more than 70 percent of the county's population resides in or near Hagerstown, he said, meaning most of the districts would have to be drawn in that area.

Munson said he would not support a referendum on the issue.

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