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March 12, 2009

Waking Up The Populace

Joan Marie Aquilino

Are we about to see cracks in the glass ceiling in the world of our Frederick County Board of Education and Frederick County Public Schools? Will the Sacred Cow called the public schools system be held accountable?


If the answers to the above questions are yes, then it’s going to be a good and proud day in this county for both our children and for you, the taxpayers.


Why you ask? Money doesn’t educate. The educated use of money does. A very uneducated use is going on now. What exactly is being taught?


Is it not a slap in the face to taxpaying citizens to have the superintendent’s new contract and the “No Cuts” budget voted on and passed by the school board the exact same night? They didn’t even acknowledge the stimulus money in the budget; and, depending on how they spend it, it could end up costing taxpayers even more because it could become Maintenance of Effort money that the county is mandated to continue funding.


Attention County taxpayers assume the position.


The players:


County Taxpayers and Voters: You pay all the bills with your hard earned money and property taxes.


The Board of County Commissioners which dispenses the money received from taxpayers. Never living within a budget but rather taking what comes in and spending as they see fit. They do keep a savings fund added to each year.


Elected Board of Education, superintendent, (hired and contracted by the school board), Frederick County Public Schools, the umbrella for all other school employees: First you have to figure out who’s on first, what's on second. They find ways to spend the money they want, justify it all by saying if they don't get it, it will directly hurt the children. Thus the tugging at heart strings and the pity party ensues.


Many private schools charge far less than it takes our school system to educate our children. Don’t get distracted by the argument that public schools have higher costs because of such and such. Twelve thousand plus compared to an average of four or five thousand for private school is big, no matter the argument.


Our closest public counterpart in fiscal conservative responsibility appears to be Hartford County.


We need to take at look at their playbook, rethink our directions, and put the children first – before the buildings, the added staff, their raises, new furniture and general fluff. How about educating our children by example? The example is that once you’re on your way to college and a career, you’ll also be prepared for fiscal responsibility set by the example they learned from their educators.


I'm going to address the issue of who is in charge first. The pecking order would indicate that the elected Board of Education should be the ones in charge because they are the ones accountable to the voters. However, that is proving to be less and less often the case. The superintendent’s position and contract is protected by the state, and the school board. Unless a very strong and vocal Board of Education is put into place, the will of the superintendent will not be questioned and will have ultimate control.


Times are a changin' folks. There is something in the air. Call it fear of spending; weariness at the turning of a blind eye; an abuse no longer acceptable; educated voters not willing to tolerate. Call it anything you want, but whatever it is, things need to change.


I fault the school board and Frederick County Public Schools in so far as being the cheerleaders and behaving as if their role in this area is to rally, beg and obtain as much money as they can squeeze out of the county budget. I fault county taxpayers for falling for the “same ole, same ole” every single year and being bullied into thinking that if they say no to the school system, then, in someway, they will deny the children the best education possible.


I was personally appalled that the Board of Education sent a budget across Church Street to Winchester Hall without cuts, in essence saying we'll take our chances and go for broke. Plus, they never took the newly acquired stimulus money into account either, claiming they didn‘t know what to do with it yet.


Give me a break! How stupid do the taxpayers actually look?


The commissioners need to cut that budget to the lowest dollar amount allowed by law. If the school board wants to play games, then let them; and when the parents catch on, it will be the end. Parents aren't going to put up with it. They will stop allowing the school board to pit teachers, students and parents against each other; and they will rise up and demand that the money they pay in taxes be put into the schools, not into administration and its related costs.


The cuts need to come from outside the actual school buildings, away from the classroom. We could get lucky and the Frederick County Teachers Association will follow suit – no longer battling 8% raises, extra planning time, etc.


Honestly, I can understand why the teachers union fights for things when they look at the overhead the school system carries. Why not, if teachers don't get it, someone else will.


Come on public, we pay continuing education – we train them. Then guess what? Surprise! They aren’t even asked to either stay or pay us back. They leave and go elsewhere to teach and get more money. How about we pay teachers more, expect more and hold them accountable and lengthen the time for tenure? Just an idea.


Many of us have known for years about the inequalities between school system salaries and those of Frederick County Government employees. There use to be differences between county departments until that, too, came to light and the gaps were closed. The gaps need to be closed between the school board and county employees. Maybe they should all be paid by the county and be on the county’s payroll. Aren't the sheriff’s deputies, correctional officers, fire personnel, etc., all paid by the county.


Space doesn’t permit tackling all the problems, but hopefully I can stir you to find out more, question more, and to expect much better. I’m not saying any one within the school system is a bad person; but I am saying bad decisions and bad choices are being made and they need to stop now.


What do we do? Question and demand that administration cost be cut it to the bone. Keep the money in the actual classroom. Taking the entire budget and dividing it by the number of children in the system, claiming that is how much you spent on a child’s education, is smoke and mirrors.


Pay teachers well, hold them accountable, lengthen tenure and fire when needed. Reward good and excellent teachers. Give the children a calendar that puts them and their education first. Squeezing 180-day calendar out of a bunch of 1/2 days does nothing for children or their education it only meets mandates and pacifies Unions.


…’til next time.



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