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May 22, 2008

End The Charade; Open The Books

Joan Marie Aquilino

The Board of Education Budget Begging Parade is nearly completed for yet another year. When is this humiliating practice of parading parents, students and teachers before the public - begging for funds - going to stop? Are we just so used to it that we don't even notice anymore?


Most departments submit their written budgets, present them to the Board of County Commissioners, and cross their fingers hoping for the best. There are a few heartfelt stories about the hows and whys of the requests; but as a rule, it's not four-plus hours, multiple evenings of parents, teachers and student outcries and sob stories, with the unions and Board of Education behind them cheering it on.


I know the sole purpose of the Board of Education is to support and fund the school system and make policies, etc. They are doing their jobs. I think it's wrong for all other county departments and taxpayers to have one entity consume more than half our entire county budget and be held to less accountability than all others combined.


To me, if it is deserved and warranted, then the begging does not need to exist. The school board needs to argue its case on its merits. If the unions want to speak, let them do it on their own, don't use the teachers.


Don't tell me you need more money to teach our children. I have known of warehouses full to the ceiling with excess school equipment and furniture. Why aren't we using our own Technology School more often rather than contracting out to other companies?


We also have items being stolen, and then it seems to be dropped as an "oops" with no accountability.


We have busses running with barely a child or two on them.


All these items individually aren't that bad, but added up they really cost.


Show us you know how to pinch a penny before asking for more. Explain to me why we have money to fund background items such as a new board room, new laptops and TV's.


Why is a remodel (top to bottom) necessary and affordable for a room that is going to be obsolete when you get your new building? Yet when it comes to teachers' salaries and classroom spending we are always short. Where is the logic?


The public and the county commissioners are presented with a school budget that cannot be understood or read with any certainty by the average citizen.


What I do not agree with, never have and never will, is the manner in which the school board goes about filling their budget coffers. They do it on the backs of the children, parents and teachers. It's like an old Herbal Essence commercial where they tell you to tell a friend and a friend tells a friend and so on. If enough people sing the same song eventually they will wear us down, make us feel guilty for depriving those so needy and deserving.


Stop with all the begging and pleading and put forth a simple straight-forward line-item budget that shows where the money is actually being spent and why. When that budget is not cloaked in secrecy and hidden tunnels, maybe the school board won't be the constant target for critics of waste and poor practices.


This custom of getting parents, teachers and children to do the dirty work of begging is so distasteful. Yes, the commissioners have hearts, some a bit more difficult to find than others, but they do, and they are doing their jobs and sometimes those jobs require the word "NO" to be used.


I often think those that say "NO" the most are the ones with the biggest hearts because they are the members looking out for the future and are being responsible and realistic.


When there is extra in the budget, the assumption that the only thing to do is give it to Frederick County Public Schools is outrageous. This is a practice that is "assumed" at this point by both parties.


I will be the first to stand up and say that our children are our most precious resource and that teachers are some of the unsung heroes of our society. But using that for the sole reason of gaining more money isn't cutting it with me.


When I hear stories from teachers sadly telling us how they cannot afford to buy a house and live here in Frederick, I soften, and, yes, I listen; but then the story goes further and you find out they are a first, second or third-year teachers and they are looking to buy a home on 10 months' salary by themselves and are in shock that this cannot happen.


I would like to see anyone else that has been able to, at the age of 22 to 25, buy a home on their own and to also buy one within miles of their workplace. It doesn't happen and it didn't happen that way generations ago, so this is not a new phenomenon.


My first home was bought during the 18% interest days, and it was bought with much sacrifice, saving, and on two and half incomes. Not a sob story; just a reality check of how it works. It is what my own parents did to afford their first home also. This is real life and buying a home is not a right or an entitlement. It can be many people's dream, and dreams are achieved not given.


Teachers - I am sorry it appears as if I am picking on you because many that know me know exactly how much I value you. A true teacher is born, not taught.


Those that make a difference in a child's life should be making the incomes of lawyers and doctors; but those that do not should not be making the same amount of money as every other teacher. I will never agree that just because you put in time you are entitled to job protection and raises. You provide a certain level of work and when you take it past that, then you get more because you have given more.


As with all careers, all teachers are not created equal. We've got the excellent, the good, the adequate, the bad and the downright ugly as in most professions. Unfortunately the ugly are sometimes just as protected and rewarded as the excellent. The truly dedicated, working more hours than you can imagine, spending more money on their students than should be allowed, and taking that one child to heights never expected, is not rewarded anymore than the just adequate teacher.


I know I have rambled a bit, but I will bring it back to the initial thought process and that is  . . . Stop the process the school board uses to obtain the county taxpayers' money and make it clear, transparent and easily understood by everyone.


Maybe they aren't hiding anything, but we certainly cannot tell that now; and using parents, teachers and children to beg for money is wrong. Perceptions mean a lot, and the perception here is waste.


'till next time . . .

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