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Washington County school board member criticizes timing of vote

President says delaying process of closing elementary schools could cost county more money

July 18, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

At the end of Tuesday’s Washington County Board of Education meeting, board member Karen Harshman voiced her feelings about her inability to convince the school board president to change a meeting date, according to a video of the meeting provided by the school system.

Harshman said she asked Board President Wayne Ridenour several times to reschedule the Aug. 7 vote for the proposed closing of Winter Street and Conococheague elementary schools because she could not make the meeting and it was not a good time of the year for many people to attend a meeting.

Harshman, who appeared to be reading from a piece of paper, said her family planned a vacation with friends a year ago, thinking August, as a popular vacation month, would be a time when “issues of extreme importance were less likely to appear” before the board.

Harshman said Tuesday night’s public hearing about the proposed closing of the two elementary schools also was during a “typical vacation month” and she apologized to citizens who could not attend. She also apologized for not being able to make the Aug. 7 meeting.

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“Mr. Ridenour’s decision has made it impossible for my vote to count, but I would like to take this time to make my position clear. I am not in favor of closing neighborhood schools and busing children cross-country to excessively large schools against parents’ wishes,” Harshman said.

Harshman’s comments came during the board member comments portion of the meeting.

When it was Ridenour’s turn to speak, he said he would only make one comment, “to avoid a spitting contest.”

Ridenour pointed out there are seven members on the school board and said a request by one member does not obligate him to change board meetings or issues facing the board.

No other board member wanted to change the date of the vote or of Tuesday night’s public hearing, he said.

Ridenour said the board is obligated to try to vote on the schools’ closure by Aug. 7 because delaying the process could cost the Washington County Board of Commissioners more money.

In August, the county government will be nearing the end of its 90-day period to study the site of a proposed new elementary school, behind Walmart, and would have to pay $5,000 more to extend the study period.

“I think it’s inappropriate to blame me, as an individual, since I am only an individual. I am one of seven,” Ridenour said.

Ridenour said Harshman’s attempt to “blindside” him during board member comments was “inappropriate, and it’s a cheap shot. And I’m weary of it,” he said.

The Tuesday meeting aired on Antietam Cable Television and was available at the school system’s website at www.wcps.k12.md.us/school_board.

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