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The election's 'loud message'

May 16, 2006

Last week voters in Jefferson County, W.Va., swept out three incumbent Board of Education members in an election that the victors said was a "very loud message" from voters seeking a change.

We congratulate Pete Dougherty, Mariland D. Lee, Scott Sudduth and Gary Kable on their victory. We urge them to spend at least some time looking back at what their predecessors did that may have led to their defeat.

When the three who were defeated May 9 took office in July 2002, they unveiled a new agenda they hadn't shared in advance with incumbents.

It was not that what was being proposed was controversial. Adding a science and technology committee, making it easier for citizens to e-mail the board and televising board meetings was hardly revolutionary.

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But not giving the two incumbents an advance look at the proposals created some ill will needlessly, when all should have been concentrating on the welfare of the children.

Nor did the last board impress us when dealing with the state's School Building Authority (SBA).

It was clear as far back as 2000 that SBA wanted local funding commitments before it would make grants of state money. But the Board of Education resisted holding a bond referendum in 2003, even after being turned down for a $15 million grant that same year.

In December 2005, the SBA took the county's request for $4 million and delivered $953,795. At the time, Lori Stilley, the board's president, expressed concern about SBA's objectivity.

The SBA is a citizen board and as such is susceptible to the same sort of persuasion as every other human. But, as the group with the cash, its members make the decisions and it's up to the local board to make its case.

Just as important is the issue raised recently by Lyn Widmyer, a Herald-Mail columnist from Jefferson County. Too few students are taking Advanced Placement, college level courses, she said, which means fewer students are planning for higher education.

That's the other message the board should hear, whether or not those delivering it are speaking loudly.

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