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The race many have forgotten about

July 13, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

The election is months away and so far most of the political coverage - and letters to the editor - have involved the contenders for president. But there is a local contest that might mean more to your family and this community than the race for the White House.

It's the race for the Washington County School Board. Eight are running, but only four can be elected.

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 II.

They will face a number of issues, including the following:

The federal No Child Left Behind Act. This law will certainly be amended, but those who believe it will be repealed are dreaming. It might not be perfect, but its chief virtue is that teachers can no longer conclude that some children can't learn because of their family backgrounds.

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Advocates for minority students will paint any repeal proposal as an attempt to go back to the bad old days, when too many black students ended up in special education classes.

Redistricting. In February, the School Board rejected a plan that would have moved 160 Boonsboro-area children, which made the parents of the students who would have been affected very happy.

But what school system officials fear is that the next time Washington County seeks state school construction cash, state officials will point out that they aren't making the best possible use of the school space they have now.

Perhaps the system could give parents an incentive to volunteer for transfers, although once parents and students get accustomed to "their school," it will be tough to persuade them to move.

School funding, capital and otherwise. As the economy continues to drag, it is inevitable that the state - and perhaps the federal government, too - will pass some of the pain along to local governments in the form of funding cuts.

The challenge will be to convince state officials and the Maryland General Assembly that Washington County needs all the money that it is asking for. As you watch the candidates in the months to come, ask yourself: Which ones would be able to persuade you to contribute your money?

To my knowledge, every candidate has made attracting and keeping good teachers one of his or her top priorities. In addition to being good for the system and its students, it's chance to make progress on another issue - affordable housing.

As I've written previously, something like this could work. The government purchases a tract of land and contracts for the construction of modest homes.

Teachers and other government employees such as police and firefighters would get first shot at them. But there would be a catch. Additions would be forbidden, so that when residents' incomes increased, they'd be encouraged to move to a larger home.

Classroom discipline. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine asked me why North Hagerstown High School needed more than one vice principal.

"Because," I said, "When you and I went to school and we got into trouble, all the school had to do was call our parents. Mom and dad didn't want to hear "our side" of what happened."

Teachers today have to deal with parents whose automatic response to such reports is, "Are you sure that it was my child?"

I'm sure some teachers are tempted to say, "No, I dreamed it up because I needed one more challenge in my day."

Because my son is a teacher at Antietam Academy - the old Alternative School - I can't get into that subject without it looking as if I'm trying to make his life easier.

But years ago, before he even graduated from college, I wrote that every school should have one or more alternative classrooms.

Those who misbehaved would get more attention, not less, which is really what a lot of students need. As a former school mentor, I found that in many cases, just having someone paying attention improves students' attitude and their grades.

Partnerships with the business community. As Tim Rowland points out in a column elsewhere on this page, the fact that the University System of Maryland's Hagerstown campus is not meeting its enrollment projections is not a good thing.

More students, especially those who can't afford to go away to college, need to be encouraged to give higher education a shot.

Whether that encouragement comes in the form of having someone from a sponsoring company act as a mentor, giving the student a part-time job or awarding a scholarship, it can't hurt. Washington County does not want to be known as the place where they built a college campus and it closed because not enough people enrolled.

The backlog of school maintenance projects. The problem here, as one public official told me years ago, is that there is no booster club for maintenance. No one will protest if you try to get a few more years out of a roof or a boiler. Just as other elected officials have to deal with issues such sewers, which bore citizens most of the time, School Board members need to deal with maintenance, to make sure the system isn't setting itself up for more expensive jobs tomorrow by delaying the work today.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion Page

editor of The Herald-Mail.

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