Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Education by the Numbers

An Anne Arundel County school system task force, appointed by Superintendent Eric Smith in 2003, has set forth a number of recommendations to help the school system save money. Sensible recommendations from the group include trying to intervene with special needs children earlier, rather than later, so that less money needs to be spent over their whole educational experience.

More questionable among the recommendations is "outsourcing" staff such as janitors, so that the County isn't on the hook for their retirement and benefits. One can almost surely foresee a situation where, if janitorial and other service staff are turned over to the private sector, these individuals will have significant cuts in both wages and pension benefits. Currently, these are quality, decent-paying jobs, and many of the County's janitorial staff have been at the same schools for decades. There's a good deal to be said for that kind of employee loyalty and retaining solid jobs for working class people in the County. I suspect these jobs are on the chopping block precisely because the people who hold them aren't in a politically powerful group.

The Sun article also reports an unsurprising finding, that Howard County, which has the highest test scores in the State, spends $1,241 more in County funds per student than Anne Arundel County. Howard County also spends 63.2% of its budget on education, as opposed to 48.3% percent in Anne Arundel County. This raises the frightening prospect that perhaps we're getting what we pay for.

Last, but certainly not least, the task force found that the cost of renovating the 45 school buildings that will be 40 years old by 2009 will be $750 million. That's more than the County's entire proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Education on the cheap serves neither our children, nor County residents well.



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