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School board might hire its own lobbyist

February 14, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM and ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Critical of its state representatives, the Washington County Board of Education on Tuesday decided to possibly hire a lobbyist to help get more school construction money.

Board Vice President Wayne D. Ridenour said during a work session that he was not sure the lobbyist would work on this year's legislative priorities, but could be an asset in upcoming years.

Washington County Public Schools has one new elementary school and two replacement elementary schools scheduled to open next year.

"A letter to the delegation has not worked," board President Roxanne R. Ober said. "I do think we need to move more aggressively than in the past."

She said the board has written a letter to the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly for three or four years with legislative priorities and has not received feedback.

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The criticism caught the current and previous delegation chairmen off guard when they heard about it from The Herald-Mail.

Del. Christopher B. Shank and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. said they thought their relationship with the school board has been good and that the county has done well in getting school funding.

Shank, R-Washington, the previous delegation chairman, and Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, this year's chairman, said this was the first they heard about the board's concerns. They wanted to know more about the board's complaints before commenting further.

Board member W. Edward Forrest said at Tuesday's meeting that he did not want to hire a lobbyist. He said the delegation has been unresponsive to the needs of the county's schools and the board should not hire someone to do the work of the area's elected officials.

"People have a job to do, and I think it's time they do it," he said.

Five members of the delegation stood with Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan last month as she appealed to the state Board of Public Works for more school construction money on a day when every school district gets the same chance.

Washington County originally asked for $20.4 million for capital projects, but the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction recommended $6.7 million. The Board of Public Works can add more money to the recommendation.

The school board didn't say on Tuesday how much it might spend on a lobbyist, but talked about splitting the cost with the Washington County Commissioners.

Washington County, the city of Hagerstown and three nonprofit business-related organizations are part of a lobbying coalition that is paying lobbyist Michael V. Johansen almost $20,000 to focus on four issues of local concern this session.

Johansen said Tuesday that he hasn't heard from the school board.

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