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Shank's BOE study bill: Don't oppose idea now

February 08, 2007

Last year, after Del. Christopher Shank saw the defeat of his bill to study whether Washington County School Board members should be elected at-large, we urged the bill's foes to reach out to those who sought change.

Apparently, if there was an outreach effort, it wasn't enough. Shank has reworked the bill and introduced it again in the current session.

We backed the idea of a study in 2006, because there are pros and cons to changing the way the School Board is elected. A study might even turn up other, better possibilities, such as a mix of at-large members and others elected by districts.

Both the School Board and the Washington County Commissioners quickly shot down the idea last year. Both bodies should back the bill, or at least agree not to oppose it, for these reasons:

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· Residents of Boonsboro and other south county towns believe their schools and their views are not getting the same consideration as those of the Hagerstown area.

If you believe that the people in power are not paying attention to you and they quickly shoot down the idea of even studying how the system works, well, you might get the idea that your views aren't highly valued.

Because of a series of annexations in December, Boonsboro will grow more quickly than any other county town. It will face problems, including school capacity, that will require plenty of attention to residents' views.

· The School Board and the county's General Assembly delegation need to march to the same drumbeat in this session. A fight about this bill could allow Maryland's larger counties to conclude that this area doesn't have its act together and that the legislature might just as well send any extra school construction money elsewhere.

· A battle over this bill also has the potential to distract the delegation from the more pressing issues it faces, such as how residents will deal with soaring electric rates when the residential caps come off in 2008.

At this point, the plan, which Allegheny Energy representatives said did not incorporate any suggestions from local state delegates, contains two options - pay ahead before the rate cap comes off or experience all of the financial shock all at once time in 2008.

And then there is the state prison complex, where the new governor plans to spend $32.6 million for a building to house 384 inmates at the Maryland Correctional Training Center.

Presumably, this new building would replace Quonset huts there that now house 400. It is vital that delegates get a pledge that the temporary housing will not be filled again with several hundred more inmates.

Why? Because every inmate-on-inmate assault that occurs at the local prison complex is prosecuted at Washington County taxpayers' expense.

These issues - and the need to secure more school construction cash - are the keys to the 2007 session.

Instead of fighting over whether Washington County needs a study of how its School Board is elected, opponents should go along. Let the local delegation focus its energy on more important issues.

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