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Letters to the Editor - Oct. 21

October 20, 2012

Discussion was about hypothetical budget crisis, and there’s no agenda to close Barbara Ingram School for the Arts

To the editor:

As an educator with past experience in gifted and talented education, I am in favor of creating opportunities for our brightest and most talented students.

Recently, my remarks about the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts reported in a Herald-Mail candidate profile have raised some concerns. In the context of discussing hypothetical future budget cuts, and if a bad economy forces the school system to make tough decisions, yes, “all things are on the table,” including BISFA. Any high school with an enrollment of 222 students would have to justify its continued existence in such a dire fiscal scenario. If the cost per pupil was shown to be comparable to the other high schools in this hypothetical budget crisis, then BISFA would have a great case for continuing. Again, remember, this is only a hypothetical budget crisis.

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Yes, I said it's hard to justify spending for an arts school even in the best of fiscal times. If it were easy to justify, then every county in the state would have one. Maybe even every school system in the country would have one. If we think back to 2009, most would agree that BISFA was a controversial concept at the time and it was a “hard sell” to bring the community on board for the project.

The candidate profile also said I questioned whether Barbara Ingram School for the Arts is “really providing the best high school education.” Yes, I said that. I know the students are getting the best possible education the school setting offers. The caliber of student accepted into BISFA would hardly be expected to perform poorly, and the various academic statistics are impressive. A future independent evaluation of the academic program would certainly add to the pro-BISFA case in the hypothetical budget crisis discussed earlier.

Recent requests for additional BISFA space, a cafeteria and storage space, point out the concern I do have. I'm sure the needs are genuine, and I don't fault the school for asking. I question the wisdom of a school board's decision to open a high school facility lacking adequate academic classroom space, a library, a cafeteria, and adequate storage space. These shortcomings should have been addressed in the original planning for the school. The fact that kids eat lunch and that play productions require storage should not have come as a surprise. Perhaps, there is some plan for meeting these needs. However, if that plan involves requests for additional funding, it must take into account that the county commissioners have already rescued the underestimated Bester Elementary project and agreed to buy the overpriced land for a “West City” elementary school, and the school board is faced with $53.8 million in deferred maintenance.

Contrary to the conclusions some have drawn from the Herald-Mail article, I do NOT want to eliminate funding for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. As the article clearly stated, I am not calling for its closing. As an advocate for great public schools for every child, I want to help build on our school system’s successes and fix the messes. I think BISFA gives us an opportunity to do both.

Melissa Williams
Smithsburg

Editor’s note: Melissa Williams is a candidate for Washington County Board of Education.


Secrecy in government is issue voters can resolve at the polls

To the editor:

Spence Perry was right on target with his Oct. 11 column about the secrecy in local government and related institutions. I agree with him that these agencies have a responsibility to do more of their business in public, and further, to educate citizens about why their actions are correct and necessary. But after hearing the alarm raised by Perry and others like him, if citizens take the attitude that “it’s not my problem,” then they will get the government and the policies that they deserve. After all the recent commemorations of the sacrifices made during the Civil War, it would be shameful to tarnish the heritage of freedom bought with blood, sweat and tears with indifference and a low turnout at the polls in November.

Bob Maginnis
Smithsburg


Do we want a president who makes rapid-fire decisions?

To the editor:

Political debates are not a great way to choose our leaders.

No politician, especially the president, makes decisions and gives difficult reasons and answers in a brief two-minute time period. I’m guessing the vast majority of the president’s decisions are made after two, three days or maybe weeks, only after counsel with close advisers.

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