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Arts-school panel eliminated

January 06, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN -- One of the three committees dedicated to the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts was eliminated Tuesday -- a decision that Washington County Board of Education member William H. Staley called offensive.

"This is a slap in the face after we put our time in," said Staley, a member of that committee, known as the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts ad hoc committee.

Board member Donna Brightman also is a member of the committee, as was school board member Bernadette M. Wagner before her term ended last year.

"The committee has outlived its usefulness," said school board member W. Edward Forrest, who brought forth the motion to dissolve the ad hoc group.

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Forrest also said it was a waste of school system staff time.

The school board voted Tuesday to eliminate the committee, 5-2, with Brightman and Staley opposed.

It formed in 2007 to handle issues dealing with the construction, curriculum and financing of the performing arts high school opening this year in downtown Hagerstown.

At that time, Wayne D. Ridenour, who is now the school board president, said he was offended by the creation of the committee. He said it was absurd that a third committee was created to oversee aspects of the new school.

Ridenour and board member Paul W. Bailey have chaired those committees since that time. Ridenour said Tuesday that other existing committees, including ones that discuss school system facilities, curriculum and finance, also handle some issues regarding the school.

Brightman said the committee was expected to serve until April, and at the time it formed, there was no one group that "had control of all facets" of the school opening. She said the goal was to streamline the process and make the board's decision making more transparent.

Forrest said the board is getting regular reports now from Barbara Ingram School for the Arts Principal Michael T. Thorsen, who was hired last year.

Brightman said Thorsen's reports addressed only one-third of the issues surrounding the school. The report only addresses curriculum, but the board needs information regarding the school construction and financing.

"(We would be) missing two-thirds of the oversight," Brightman said. "It reflects a real lack of accountability."

She said the school system will be paying off the debt of the performing arts school for the next 20 years and that taxpayers deserve some oversight of those funds.

"I have never seen a charge for this committee," Ridenour said. "In my mind, it never really existed legitimately because there was not a charge."

Brightman read a charge for the committee aloud and offered to distribute copies to the board members during Tuesday's public business meeting.

During the meeting, Brightman asked that her colleagues take "the high road" and oppose the motion to eliminate the committee.

"It's always disappointing when politics wins out over good government," Brightman said during a phone interview Tuesday night.

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