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Delegation to file Board of Education district legislation

February 08, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County's state legislators agreed Wednesday to file a bill that could lead to a ward system for the county's school board.

The state delegation voted 7-1 to file a bill proposed by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, voted no.

"This would be interfering with something that's working very well," he said.

Washington County voters would vote in the November 2008 general election on a referendum on changing the school board's structure. By voting in favor, residents would authorize a task force to recommend a total or partial ward system.

The 21-member task force would have until Dec. 31, 2009, to submit a report to the delegation.

A similar bill that called for a task force but no referendum died in a House committee last year. School board opposition killed it, Shank said.

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Wayne D. Ridenour, the school board's vice president, said Wednesday that he opposes Shank's proposal, arguing that it's tinkering with a system that isn't broken.

Under the current at-large system, he said, the school board has managed a system that is successful yet has one of the lowest per-pupil spending rates in the state.

In addition, the ward system could have a harmful effect, Ridenour said. He said the ward structure created "little fiefdoms" and divisiveness on the Hagerstown City Council while he was growing up.

Board President Roxanne R. Ober said Wednesday that she received Shank's proposal by e-mail Tuesday, but not before the board's meeting. She forwarded it to the rest of the board after the meeting.

She said she wanted to talk to the whole board before commenting.

Last year, Shank said constituents in Boonsboro pushed for the change because they were dissatisfied with their representation.

Shank favors the ward system. He has said he thinks it makes elected officials more responsive.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, expressed concern during Wednesday's delegation meeting that the county would be required to be split into seven regions.

By Munson's calculation, a region would have about 20,000 people, meaning about 10,000 registered voters. Since only a fraction vote, "if you have a big family, you get elected," he said.

Shank explained that the task force could recommend a mix of at-large and geographic representation.

"Ultimately, the final decision is ours," he said.

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