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New buildings, renovations top BOE legislative wish list

February 10, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- New school buildings and modernizing existing facilities top the Washington County Board of Education's list of legislative priorities it agreed upon last week.

Other priorities include repair to aging schools, equitable funding, healthy school environments, and safe and secure schools.

The board has hired a lobbyist to help advocate for school system funding during the current legislative session in Annapolis, said Board President Roxanne R. Ober. The board will pay $3,000 for each of the three months the General Assembly is in session, she said.

"This is the first year we've had our own lobbyist," Ober said.

She said the board plans to draft a letter for the lobbyist, Ardath Cade, and also for the county's delegation with the six priorities it has agreed upon. Cade has worked for Washington County Public Schools before, having secured historic tax credits for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts opening in downtown Hagerstown next year.

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According to board documents, the board's priorities for this legislative session are:

· New school construction: Supports adequate funding and realistic formulae to increase enrollment capacity in Washington County's schools to accommodate growth.

· Modernization of existing facilities: Supports funds to ensure that aging facilities are kept up-to-date and modernized to accommodate current needs.

· Repair to aging schools: Believe that facilities need repair in order to remain viable as adequate learning environments for students.

· Equitable funding: Believe that formulae need to be developed and implemented that take into account the reality of growing school systems, the percent of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals, the age of schools and the wealth of the local county. The formulae should not be politically driven, but rationally developed.

· Healthy school environments: Supports schools that have a healthy environment for staff and students with good air quality, the removal of irritants and potentially dangerous substances.

· Safe and secure schools: Supports funding for minimal security systems, key card and camera entries, and surveillance cameras, which are minimal investments that can help secure a school and should receive priority funding.

The board also pays $10,000 to belong to a lobbying coalition that also includes Washington County, the City of Hagerstown, the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Hagerstown Committee, the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation and the Washington County Free Library, Brien Poffenberger said. Poffenberger is president of the Chamber of Commerce and the point of contact between the coalition and the lobbyist.

He said that coalition has existed for about three years, but this is the first year the school system participated.

The Board of Education is the only local elected body that is part of the lobbying coalition and also has hired its own lobbyist to advocate at the state level. The board discussed that possibility about a year ago, saying it would help the school system secure additional money for school construction and other priorities.

"I think it's critical that we attempt to get as many funds as we can to help with our building infrastructure," Ober said.

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