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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Debate: Teacher Pay and the Budget

This was a piece today in the Rockville Patch by Brandon Rippeon and Saqib Ali. What would you cut from the budget? Post a comment!

Rippeon's point:
The Gazette's Dec. 22nd issue said County Council members said teachers should make the same sacrifices as county employees, who are giving up pay raises. What should be the focal point is not the compensation of MCPS' overworked and underpaid classroom teachers, but the overwhelming number of administrators and bureaucrats whose titular positions and ridiculous pay packages are sapping the school system of badly needed resources.
Here are just a few of the outlandish positions and salaries one could only find in Montgomery County where the entire school system is run to benefit the few (administrators and bureaucrats) at the expense of the many (students and classroom teachers).
  • A "video services technician" who received $81,899 last fiscal year to convert VHS material to DVD.
  • An "information technology specialist" who for only $103,609 provided telecommunication services.
  • An "instructional specialist" and a "coordinator" in the Office of School Performance who received a combined $282,807 to work on curriculum development.
  • And a "web producer" whom I am confident earned every dollar of his/her $102,997 taxpayer funded compensation package.
These are not individual positions. There are thousands of them throughout the 22,000 strong MCPS work force.
Compare those positions and salaries to the income of a classroom teacher with BA degree who is paid a whopping $46,410.
The current county revenue shortfall and budget crisis have given the County Council a fortuitous opportunity to exert control over the selfish and reckless school board and MCPS leadership. The council should mandate a total budget and personnel review by an outside auditor. I would be very curious to see how those 1,000-plus MCPS issued credit cards are being used. The taxpayer has overfunded MCPS maintenance of effort requirements by over $500 million over the past decade; we have done our part.
Throughout the upcoming negotiations MCPS should remember only 25 percent of Montgomery County residents have children in the public school system, yet MCPS is spending more than 55 percent of our total budget.

Ali's counterpoint:
Let me get this straight: You think the real problem with MCPS's budget is that there are too many administrative and overhead expenses when compared against classroom teachers' salaries?
That's certainly an original argument. But I suspect it's wrong.
A certain amount of overhead positions are necessary for smoothly running one of the country's larger school system. It's easy to lampoon and demagogue them as you have done. I would actually agree that no-one should be getting paid $82,000 a year simply to transfer VHS to DVDs, but I doubt that is their only duty. I certainly can't find anyone willing to substantiate that.
The issue that the County Council is currently wrestling with is how to close next year's $300 million dollar deficit (out of a total budget of $4.3 billion). There are only two choices: increasing taxes or deeply cutting services. Cuts are more likely since many politicians read the victory of the 2008 "Ficker Amendment" to be a mini-tax rebellion by the county's residents — a sort of "We can't take it any more!" moment.
So the four-point-three-billion-dollar question is: Where will these cuts fall? Will they come out of the school system's hide? Or the non-school system county employees (firemen, policemen, other civil servants)? Will they take the shape of layoffs, furloughs, reduced employee benefits or increased employee contributions?
These questions will be resolved by byzantine maneuvering and vicious knife-fights in the County Council and among various labor unions over the coming months. All the while players in this tense drama will be positioning themselves to run for higher office in 2014.
These budget-balancing votes in Annapolis and Rockville in 2011 might be the most significant (and controversial) votes these politicians take their entire four year terms.

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