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Washington Co. School Board endorses legislative priorities

December 12, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Board of Education will oppose any legislative initiatives by state lawmakers to support private and parochial school vouchers or tuition tax credit programs that would threaten funding to public schools.

On Tuesday, Anthony Trotta, chief legal counsel for Washington County Public Schools, briefed the board on more than 40 legislative positions that the Maryland Association of Boards of Education will take when the Maryland General Assembly begins its session Jan. 13 in Annapolis.

The board endorsed every legislative priority on the list.

All 24 public boards of education in the state are members of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

In addition to talking about the position that the Maryland Association of Boards of Education will take on private and parochial school vouchers or tuition tax credit programs, Trotta told the board the group also intends to oppose unfunded mandates and any attempts by the state to interfere with the local collective bargaining process.

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Wayne D. Ridenour, president of the Washington County Board of Education, said after Trotta's presentation that the board is asked every year to approve the Maryland board's legislative priorities.

The board was provided with documents that stated the General Assembly has considered legislation in recent years "to facilitate private funding of tuition scholarships, or private school vouchers, through an income tax credit program administered by the Maryland State Department of Education."

The documents say the voucher program would be funded by tax credits of 75 cents on the dollar, which would divert millions of dollars away from public school funding.

"We don't support that," Ridenour said. "It's just going to take money away from us in this economic climate."

Ridenour said another proposal the board will oppose is one that would create a Public School Labor Relations Board.

The proposal would require local school systems to hire a mediator to settle disputes between the board and employee groups.

Ridenour said in addition to being costly, the proposal would diminish local control over labor relations.

"To me, it's a little scary," Ridenour said. "I don't think we would need an elected board if that happens."

During a meeting Nov. 10, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan asked local state legislators to delay unfunded mandates to help the system reduce a potential $9.2 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year.

Morgan said Friday the state often encourages school systems to cut their budgets, but will continue to create mandates without providing the funding.

An example of an unfunded state mandate is the work study program, Morgan said. The program requires students to perform volunteer work in order to graduate. Morgan said several staff hours are used to supervise and coordinate the program.

"All of those things cost money," Morgan said. "It's not time to implement anything new. We have to be in a holding pattern for a while."

Morgan said the system needs to focus on continuing its academic momentum -- not finding ways to fund new state mandates.

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