Maryland Public Schools Rank No. 1 But Tight Budgets Bring New Test
Superintendents across Maryland say proposed personnel cuts won’t threaten student achievement.
Maryland is once again gaining national recognition for its public school system, but county school boards faced with tightening budgets are proposing staff and program cuts that could mean fewer teachers and bigger class sizes. Still, superintendents statewide say they’re using strategic spending to prevent the worst effects.
“We are spending $1,000 less per student this year than last,” said Dana Tofig, a spokeman for Montgomery County Public Schools, the state’s largest school system. “Even with that we’re seeing the highest student achievement.”
The state has received notable recognition for educational gains even as local systems have reduced staff, cut programs and frozen salaries in recent years.
In fact, President Obama singled out Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology in Baltimore County with a visit on Monday to highlight the school’s innovation in science, technology, engineering and math education, officials said. Obama used the visit to discuss his proposed budget for education.
Maryland schools were ranked first in the nation in 2010 for the third year in a row by Education Week. The state also ranked No. 1 in the nation for the third year in a row in graduates who received a passing grade of 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams conducted by the College Board, according to the board.
Gov. Martin O’Malley also is trying to do his part with what he calls a “strategic investment,” saying he’ll make no cuts but maintain kindergarten through 12th grade education funding at $12.5 billion in his 2012 budget proposal to the state legislature.
However, there are signs the impact on students is growing and may become more evident.
In both Prince George’s and Baltimore counties, the second and third largest state systems respectively, superintendents have indicated there will be fewer teachers and other staff in schools next year, which could affect class size.
Prince George’s Superintendent William Hite has proposed eliminating more than 1,100 school positions, switching from full-day to half-day pre-kindergarten programs throughout the county and replacing evening high school programs with online courses.
Baltimore County Superintendent Joe Hairston has proposed freezing 196 anticipated teacher vacancies, a 5 percent cut in school and office budgets and a delay in buying computers, furniture and library books for some schools.
Neither Hite nor Hairston could be reached for comment.
In Anne Arundel County, Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said he has not had to make any cuts in his current budget proposal but noted, “We also have not asked for additional positions while student enrollment is rising.” Anne Arundel has received a 31.7 percent increase in its operating budget in the first four years of the O’Malley administration, Maxwell said.
“Our success in our magnet and signature programs … our AP placement has been phenomenal,” Maxwell said, adding that he has not had to cut any of those programs although they are being staffed at the same level as four years ago.
“Right now the impact on the students is minimal,” said Steve Guthrie, superintendent for Carroll County Public Schools. He said he anticipates a loss of about $1.5 million in state funding for education because of the county’s declining student enrollment but said he’s “not putting any teachers out the door.”
However, Guthrie said the challenge will be to limit the impact of inflation, or costs that remain the same or increase, as budgets remain stagnant. Those costs have amounted to about $3.5 million annually, he said.
He also said officials will have to work to preserve instructional programs and current offerings while at the same time implementing new federal standards initiated by Race-to-the-Top programs that may conflict with previous No Child Left Behind efforts and state assessments.
No Child Left Behind is the Bush-era education funding law that emphasized improving school performance by increasing accountability standards and providing for more parental choice in schools. Race to the Top is the primary educational initiative of President Obama’s administration that is designed to spur education reform through innovation, rigorous criteria for teacher training and evaluation and development of common standards and assessments for students.