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Yes, ward system would improve schools

February 17, 2007|by TOM JANUS

In Sunday's column "Delegation should focus on school funds not ward system," Tim Rowland's argument against a ward system to elect Board of Education (BOE) members is superficial.

"This effort may or may not be worthwhile." Rowland states. "We don't know. What we do know is that it is very popular in rural parts of the county and a slam-dunk vote-magnet for its proponents." Unless he is referring to the mouse in his pocket, I question the identity of the expert "we."

Rowland buttresses his analysis by saying, "In a sharply worded e-mail to Del. Chris Shank, author of the ward-system legisla-tion, Board Member Wayne Ridenour (asked)." "How will regionalized representa-tion benefit children?"

If I were elected a BOE member by Shank's system, I could more easily visit schools, study issues in depth and hold "local concerns" meetings. I would have ownership and defined responsibility. My guess is that Ridenour likes the anonymity of not being held to any localized standard of performance.

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Ridenour asks, "Will it improve the resources for students?" My answer is an unequivocal yes. The spending that he and his fellow board members now do is filtered through staff, not coming from his constituency. Spending would be more focused and prioritized to the needs of student performance. Again, he seems to prefer vagueness.

He further ponders, "Will it result in more and better facilities?" The answer again is yes. He would know what the priorities were for his area of "expertise" and "responsibility."

He would know what needed to be done right away and could argue forcefully and convincingly his area's case. Again he seems to prefer remaining in the shadows.

Ridenour posits, "Will it improve student per-formance?" Again, yes, because he would be concerned with specific grades, school populations and academic performance. In his current position, he doesn't even know how the kindergarten through second-grade students in any geographic area are doing.

Finally he asks the question that is really on his mind, "Will operations of the board be more efficient?"

Certainly, it is more efficient to gloss over the real issues of a geographic area by saying there are other priorities. Yet districts could vote on whether a roof or a cafeteria or a carpet or a small neighborhood school was a higher priority than building a 750-student elementary school or an arts school.

Unlike Ridenour, I do not have a great deal of diffi-culty answering yes to any of the above questions. Then again I prefer the light and dialogue to obscurity and stillness.

Rowland further leaves the reader with the impression that the Washington County delegation has not done its job in getting school funds. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Since Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan took the "reigns" in 2001, spending has increased 78 percent while student numbers increased just 8 percent and inflation has gone up 16 percent. Just think back, dear reader, to 2001 and do the math as to how much your salary has increased.

If you are an "average" worker, your hourly wages went up 20 percent. Your wages (I am retired) have just kept up with inflation. My Social Security check did not keep up and I do not get a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) on my retirement check. Retired teachers and administrators do get this COLA from we taxpayers.

We are keeping our head above water with inflation while the Board of Education and this superintendent spent almost five times faster than inflation or the hourly wage rate.

By the way, the median hourly wage for primary, secondary and special education schoolteachers is $34 an hour. Since teachers get paid for 1,425 hours worked per school year, then their annual pay is $48,450.

It is ironic that The Baltimore Sun stated on Feb. 7 that Washington County along with Baltimore City and three other counties have misused Thornton funding for educating low-income and disadvantaged students.

So, I believe, giving more money means more misuse, unless the mouse in Tim's pocket "knows" better.

Tom Janus is a Hagerstown-area resident and former School Board candidate.

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