Board of Education candidates talk about budget limitations

January 21, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

Each of the nine candidates vying for four open seats on the Washington County Board of Education was asked the following question:

The Washington County Commissioners are said to only maintain current levels of service in their budget for Washington County Public Schools. Do you believe the Board of Education could reduce its budget and still maintain existing services? Or should the county provide additional funds?

Name: Donna Brightman
Age: 56
Hometown: Southern Washington County

Prior political experience: Brightman was appointed to the Board of Education in May 2007 to fill a vacancy. She ran unsuccessfully in the 2006 general election for a Washington County Commissioner post.

Brightman said that historically Washington County Commissioners did not match state per-pupil funding for Washington County Public Schools. That resulted in lost state revenue, and in recent years the commissioners have been meeting that state mandate.


She said it is no surprise that there will be budget shortfalls.

"I believe the (County Commissioners) are committed to public education," Brightman said.

Brightman said the County Commissioners and the Board of Education could work on a different budget process. She suggests a system that would allow the Board of Education to know each fiscal year that there is a set amount of money available.

From that money, the board would know what it could fund and prevent the sort of "begathon" that typically takes place, she said.

Name: Jacqueline B. Fischer
Age: 62
Hometown: Clear Spring

Prior political experience: Fischer served on the Washington County Board of Education from 2002-06. She lost her bid for re-election in the 2006 general election.

Fischer said the budget could likely be reduced and some funds could be taken from Washington County Public Schools.

However, that could come at the cost of losing teachers, she said.

With the school system already competing with richer counties in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia in teacher pay and benefits, Washington County cannot afford to take money from those areas.

"We were recently able to boost salaries to attract some of the best (teachers)," Fischer said.

If the budget was cut for schools, though, Fischer said salaries could have to be cut.

"We would lose some of these best and brightest teachers," she said.

Name: W. Edward Forrest
Age: 44
Hometown: Hagerstown

Prior political experience: Forrest served on the Board of Education from 2000-07. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Washington County Commissioners in 2006.

Forrest said the Washington County Commissioners have a responsibility to provide a certain level of funding for Washington County Public Schools.

He said he believes that if the county continues to provide the level of funding they have in recent years that current services could be maintained.

"But if economic conditions become worse, (the Board of Education) will be required to take a look at each (budget) item," Forrest said.

Most importantly, he said, will be making sure that small class sizes are maintained.

He said his recommendation might be to "zero base" the budget. He said it would make sense to keep all essential items that directly impact students in the classroom and work up from there. His hope is that programs like music would not be cut.

And while the Board of Education will see smaller increases in funding in the next few years, he believes there still will be increases.

Name: Meredith Fouche
Age: 56
Hometown: Sharpsburg

Prior political experience: Fouche was a candidate for the Board of Education in 1988, but did not make it past the primary. He ran again in 1992 as a write-in candidate, but was not elected. He ran in 1990 for Washington County Commissioner, but withdrew before the election.

Fouche says he does not believe Washington County Commissioners can reduce the budget for Washington County Public Schools when the system is facing about $50 million in backlogged maintenance projects.

Recent increases in state funding have helped the school system improve, Fouche said.

"Excellent progress has been made over the last five to six years in improving our school system," he said. "Students in the school system are the future of our country."

Name: Justin M. Hartings
Age: 36
Hometown: Keedysville

Prior political experience: None

Hartings says that across the country the cost of education has risen at more than double the rate of inflation. Locally, as Washington County Public Schools takes on issues with aging infrastructure, he said there will be more costs associated with building new schools and making repairs to existing ones.

"The budget pressure that school systems are facing are real," Hartings said.

While budgets are tight, he said there always are opportunities to make "better and smarter" decisions about how to spend money.

Hartings said his business background would help him make decisions about the school system's budget. He owns a Frederick, Md.-based business called Biaera Technologies.

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