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Washington County school board candidates answer questions at forum

October 24, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- All eight candidates competing for four open seats on the Washington County Board of Education participated in a forum Thursday at Hagerstown Community College.

Lou Troppman of Maugansville was one of about 100 people who attended the forum, and said he was impressed by the "transparency of the candidates." Troppman said he was glad to hear them admit that not everyone has all of the solutions to the problems facing Washington County Public Schools.

Troppman said each candidate appeared open and willing to working with all county students, and were "eager to serve."

The forum was sponsored by The Herald-Mail, Antietam Cable and HCC. The field of candidates vying for a seat on the board includes two incumbents - Donna Brightman and Wayne D. Ridenour.

Here are some of the candidates' responses to questions posed by Herald-Mail staff and audience members. They are listed in the random order in which they appeared during the forum.

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Question: There is a public perception that the Board of Education does some of its work in secret and its operations are not transparent. Is that true? And what, if anything, would you do to change that?

Wayne D. Ridenour, 57
Williamsport

Ridenour said he realizes that perception exists, but does not necessarily agree with it. Many of the School Board discussions that take place behind closed doors involve legal counsel and personnel issues, he said.

"I think that we need to talk to people anytime that we can and through any means that we can to inform them of what's happening in the system," Ridenour said. "Staff is working very hard to get the message out."

Getting information to the public about the school system is one of the key jobs of the School Board, he said.

Russell F. Williams II, 65
Hagerstown

When he served on the School Board, Williams said he always was very conscious of the fact that under law if four School Board members were together, they "better not be talking about board business." He said that would have been considered an undeclared board meeting. Williams said even a long car ride that included four sitting School Board members at the time did not involve board business.

"Four people in the car ... the only thing they had in common was the Board of Ed and that was the only subject they dare not talk about," Williams said.

Jacqueline B. Fischer, 62
Clear Spring

Fischer said as far as she knows, what is being discussed in closed session falls under the law, but there are some changes that need to occur to improve communication with the public.

"Board of Education business meetings should be returned to the evening time slot so that (there) is more opportunity to attend," Fischer said.

She also suggested that the School Board revive its community forums, once known as "Evening with the Board," so that the community can ask questions of the elected members.

Justin M. Hartings, 37
Keedysville

As a parent who became involved about one year ago in issues that the School Board was considering, Hartings said he found it difficult to navigate the school system's Web site to find the information he needed. He said the board should do a better job of communicating with parents.

He also said he was against a practice of changing a policy in a committee meeting in the afternoon, and voting on that same change during an evening meeting that day. Hartings said that has taken place twice this year that he knows about.

"There ought to be a requirement that policies be public for a certain length of time," he said.




Question: What cuts would you make to the Washington County Public Schools' budget given the current economic situation?

Meredith Fouche, 57
Sharpsburg

Fouche said he would eliminate the $40,000 in this year's budget set aside for travel for principals, calling it an "unnecessary expense." He also said he would reduce the number of vehicles used by the school system.

"If you really dig into the budget (there is) $400,000 for legal fees," Fouche said. "It's very ambiguous just what this $400,000 is supposed to cover," he said.

Fouche said some tough choices will need to be made on the coming year's budget.

Margaret Lowery, 61
Halfway

Lowery said she also wants to look at cutting travel, legal fees and vehicle numbers for Washington County Public Schools. She said officials also should look at student programs and eliminate those programs that are not effective.

"Maybe some programs that are not helping with student achievement," she said.

Lowery said she would not like to see teachers take pay cuts.

Donna Brightman, 56
Southern Washington County

Brightman said the School Board should look at both the revenue and expenditures, and suggested that the board, Washington County Commissioners, the state delegation and the community lobbyist need to be on the "same page" when it comes to the school system's needs.

"We need to do everything we can to stop the hemorrhage of money coming into the county," she said.

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