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State of Education 2008: Citizens have a role, too

April 11, 2008

A day after the Washington County Board of Education asked the county commissioners to increase the school system's budget by 3.6 percent to $87.2 million, elected officials heard a report on the "state of education" here.

There is always room for improvement, but a list of achievements racked up in the last 12 months is impressive:

· Six county high schools were listed among the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report magazine.

Only 1,600 of 19,000 in the U.S. made the list, which was based on real achievement.

Researchers found students here outperformed the Maryland average for scores on High School Assessments, which graduating seniors in the class of 2009 must pass.

· Low-income and minority students also did better than the state average and the system also produced the best college-level achievement for the highest percentage of students.

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· In November, Nancy Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, praised the local system for increasing test scores in math and science and for providing students with new opportunities, such as the International Baccalaureate Program at North Hagerstown High School.

· In April, the school system made it possible for parents to keep track of their children's grades by signing up for an online account at the beginning of the school year.

Not only does it avoid the problem of students not bringing home reports cards and other communications, it also helps to improve interaction with parents as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

· The system is also managing four school construction projects - Pangborn, Maugansville and Rockland Woods elementary schools and the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts.

In seeking only a 3.6 percent increase, the School Board has accepted the reality that the economy has slowed down and the state revenue won't be as plentiful as it has been in the recent past.

For the average taxpayer, this is good news, because it shows the school system is taking notice of the financial slowdown and adapting, just as most citizens must do.

Those citizens also have an important job this year - to choose four members of the Washington County School Board.

The Maryland primary on Feb. 12 trimmed the contenders from nine to eight, who will compete for four open seats in the November election.

The choices include:

Donna Brightman, Jacqueline B. Fischer, W. Edward Forrest, Meredith Fouche, Justin M. Hartings, Margaret Lowery, Wayne D. Ridenour and Russell F. Williams.

On Feb. 12, about 32 percent of the county's registered voters came to the polls. That was better than 2004, when turnout was only 24 percent.

On Nov. 4, Washington County can do better. There is still plenty of time to learn about the candidates and what positions they hold on the issues, including redistricting.

The current board failed to enact changes to fill the new Rockland Woods Elementary School and ease crowding elsewhere. As a result, future state funding might be at risk.

That's just one of the issues facing the next board. Whether or not you have children or grandchildren in the system, this race is important to you, for two reasons.

The first is that the school system takes a large share of the county budget. School Board members are the stewards of those funds and voters should choose them carefully.

The second is that the more local students go on to college, the better Washington County's chances are of attracting better-paying jobs. And the more taxpayers there are, the smaller the burden on everyone.

The deadline to register for the November election is Tuesday, Oct. 14. The local Board of Elections office is in downtown Hagerstown at 35 W. Washington St., Room 101.

For more information, go to the board's Web site at www.washco-md.net/election/elect1.html.

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