To the Editor:
I am writing in response to the Allegany County Commissioners’ efforts to cut local education spending to the lowest possible level allowed under state law.
While some in the community applaud these efforts, I hope the larger community is giving serious thought to the numerous damaging and perhaps unintended consequences of such actions.
By far, the greatest chunk of funding that goes into our school system is the funding we receive from the state of Maryland. Since 2009, that funding has been cut from $85 million to $75 million per year.
Local support of our schools decreased during that same period, going from $28.4 million in 2009 to $27.9 million today. That’s an additional $500,000 cut.
This year, the school system requested an increase of $688,000 in operating funds from the county (the total request was slightly over $1 million, but $398,000 of that was mandated by the state for pension costs and was covered by the state via a grant, just as occurred last year and is slated to occur the next four years).
That $688,000 would put us at $28.5 million in local funding for our schools, about $100,000 above where we were in 2009.
Dealing with $10.5 million in budget cuts was not easy; to avoid drastic program cuts the board stopped filling positions vacated via retirement.
This resulted in 130 fewer positions in the school system and lowered the school system’s general fund payroll from $68.3 million in 2009 to $65.6 million currently, a decrease of $2.7 million.
While the money saved enabled the school system to limit damage to educational programs, the impact of this attrition in staff has been felt.
Class sizes increased — some children are now sitting in academic classes with 30-plus students — and we also have classes being taught by teachers lacking certification in the subject area in order to avoid hiring additional personnel.
The gutting of our school system championed by the county commissioners, one of whom stated publicly that he would cut the school budget beyond maintenance of effort if the state allowed it, must stop.
At some point in the near future, these measures will result in a community with a poorly prepared, poorly educated work force and a public school system incapable of meeting the most basic standards.
Businesses will not locate in a community that cannot provide a qualified work force. Individuals will not locate in a community whose education system is underfunded, undervalued, and unable to prepare their children for the future.
A principal at one of our elementary schools recently stated at a meeting that of the 36 children in his school’s pre-k class, a total of five have two parents in the home.
Fully 80 percent of those 36 children live at poverty level. The one sure result of the county’s efforts to gut school funding is that the poverty with which this community struggles will continue to increase.
As we graduate students unable to function in the world of work, college, the trades or tech school, our community’s spiral into an economic abyss will increase exponentially.
Investing in our schools is an investment in our future.
It’s an investment that assures local businesses that we want to provide the work force they need in order to grow, and that we want an education system that will enable them to recruit top-flight candidates for the positions they need to fill.
It’s an investment in the community we aspire to be, and fully expect to become.