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Washington County needs a contested School Board race

June 16, 2006

What if they held an election and not enough people filed to make it a contest?

That's what could happen in the race for the Washington County Board of Education.

With the filing deadline less than a month away, only two candidates have filed for the three open seats. That's a worrisome situation.

Not to cast any aspersions on the two who have already filed, but for many years we have taken the position that uncontested elections are not good for candidates and the citizens they serve.

Candidates who face no challengers sometimes get the idea that no one else filed because everyone saw that they were doing a perfect job.

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The reality might be something else entirely. Most candidates have families; the race that seems like a good idea to a would-be office-holder might look like a nightmare to his or her family.

Or perhaps the candidate lacks money, or has a strong distaste for fundraising.

Finally, not every employer is keen on having an elected official on the payroll. Some bosses fear that if the elected official takes an unpopular action, customers might take their business elsewhere.

Contested elections are important because they provide an opportunity to look back at actions taken during the previous term.

If, for example, officeholders claim that they favor more affordable housing, but haven't done anything to make that a reality, a campaign is an opportunity to compare the record with the rhetoric.

That said, the School Board race might be drawing less interest now because it might seem that everything is going well and nothing needs to be "fixed."

Test scores are improving, the system has been fully funded by the county government and a series of magnet programs has been launched.

But there are some tough issues ahead, including the need to deal with a growing school population. Part of that might involve redistricting some children during the construction process.

The state of Maryland is facing some long-term financial woes, in part because legislative leaders are too stubborn to admit that they might need slot revenue to avoid large tax increases.

That will likely be resolved in the same way that the current electricity deregulation controversy is being resolved. First a crisis will develop and then action will be taken.

But during the time between when the crisis develops and its resolution, the school system will have to cope, perhaps by making some unpopular decisions on funding certain programs.

This is why we need a contested race for the School Board. Not only do voters deserve an examination of the incumbents' past performance, they also need to hear the newcomers explain why their expertise outweighs that of those already on the board.

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