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Back from the road, Forrest wants to return to BOE

April 23, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

W. Edward Forrest gave up his seat on the Washington County School Board in March 2007, to pursue an opportunity his employer offered, one he felt would be a professional challenge in his career as a pharmacist.

But less than a year later, Forrest said he realized that, in addition to the travel it involved, the job wasn't what he thought it would be.

Now, Forrest said, he would like to return to the board he served on from 2000 to 2007.

"I'm really driven by a deep sense of civic duty and responsibility," he said.

Raised in the county, his children now attend some of the same schools he did. He said he left for a while, but he and his wife returned because he said they were convinced this was the ideal place to raise their children.

Forrest said he feels he owes the community and would continue serving in some capacity, no matter how the election turns out.

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He notes that he served on the county's excise-tax study committee and has been invited to serve on the foundation formed to assist the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts.

Asked if he has heard from any citizens who expressed resentment about his departure and his decision to return, Forrest said, "I'm sure there are some people out there who feel that way. It's not something you take lightly."

But Forrest said that when he made the decision to return, friends and supporters contacted him, asking him if he were going to run again.

Asked about the top accomplishments of the boards he served on, Forrest said that two of the most significant were dealing with the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the funding provided as a result of the Thornton Commission recommendations.

Student achievement rose as mandated by NCLB, Forrest said, and Thornton money was used for things that directly benefitted students, such as newer textbooks and higher salaries for teachers.

"I think our system has some of the best teachers and administrators in the state," he said.

The boards he served on also introduced magnet programs, returned elementary music and began an agricultural academy in the Clear Spring area.

When considering new programs, Forrest said, "From the perspective of a parent, I have to ask, 'How would my kids fit into this?'"

If elected again. Forrest said he hoped to deal with the issue of those children who want to attend special programs, but don't have transportation.

Making sure that student achievement continues to grow is another priority, he said.

"No matter who's elected president, NCLB will transform again, hopefully with less unfunded mandates," he said.

Another hurdle to maintaining student achievement will be the current economic downturn.

Hard choices will need to be made, Forrest said, but these must be done so that "we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Though growth is lagging now, Forrest said the board must look ahead to the time when it starts again and deal, as much as possible, with some aging schools and those that are overcrowded.

Talk about overcrowding means talk about redistricting, a topic Forrest said that most parents don't want to hear about.

"But at the end of the day, attendance areas have to change," Forrest said, because state school construction funding is based on alleviating crowding.

Echoing what candidate Jacqueline Fischer told me last week, Forrest said it would be hard for this county to get more state construction cash when there are 200 empty seats at the new Rockland Woods Elementary School.

From the county commissioners' viewpoint, it might be tough if they were asked to "forward fund" schools, as Frederick County did, if they see space not being utilized.

Forrest called the proposal to fill the school by offering open enrollment "grasping at straws" and said he didn't believe that more than 20 or 30 students would be added as a result.

"I really understand the concerns of parents, but we have a responsibility to provide safe, clean and uncrowded areas for our students to learn in," Forrest said.

Forrest said his status as a father of three in the county schools gives him a perspective the board needs.

But he added that every board member need not be like him, because he feels it's "important that the board be representative of a broad spectrum of the community."

Forrest said with a smile, that "although my wife might disagree, people have told me my qualities include fairness, broadmindedness and accessibility."

Forrest wants to return to a post that pays just $5,600 a year, makes its holder a target for any parent dissatisfied with anything education-related and for any taxpayer who believes the schools spend too much. The fact that he's willing to run merits everyone's respect, but whether he can return to the job he left last year will be up to the voters.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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