As Baltimore County Council members, their auditor and school officials prepare for the battle of the school budget, they can't even agree on how many people actually work for the Department of Education.
An auditor's report says there were 10,201 employees on the school payroll in 1991. School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel insists there were only 9,563.
Those 638 humans, whoever and wherever they may be, will be critical as the school administration defends itself against an audit report that says the department has too many administrators. The report argues that the county can save up to $12 million next year by eliminating some of their jobs, along with a variety of fringe benefits.
But Dr. Dubel said the audit report's conclusions are ridiculous -- and misleading.
The report, prepared to help the County Council cut next year's budget, compared the administrative staffs and costs in Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford and Carroll counties and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
It found that, while the number of students in the county declined slightly between 1983 and 1991, the number of administrators jumped 13.3 percent and the number of teachers grew by only 3.6 percent.
The auditors said that of the 501 people the department added to its payroll over the eight years, only 194 were teachers and 62 were administrators. That's one new administrator for every three new teachers.
Dr. Dubel said he has not added administrators at all, and actually had 352 fewer "non-instructional" workers in 1991 than in 1983. He said instructional workers, including principals and secretaries, increased 222 over the period.
The auditors said the 62 administrative employees cost the county about $3.5 million a year in salary and benefits. Dr. Dubel called those numbers a "gross exaggeration." Most of the 62 employees had been moved from one administrative classification to another, he said. Moreover, he said, there were actually 131 fewer school system employees in 1991 than there were in 1983 -- and he plans to submit statistics to prove it.
The audit report said that Baltimore County has more assistant superintendents, directors, coordinators and non-school secretaries and clerks per student than Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford counties. Reducing staffing to the average could eliminate 17 positions and save $750,000 a year.
The report noted that Baltimore County schools have the highest ratio of principals or assistant principals to students among the jurisdictions analyzed -- 4.4 for every 1,000 children. Were the ratio cut to the average 3.4 of the other counties, nearly 90 Apositions could be eliminated -- an annual savings of $5 million- $7 million.
Dr. Dubel said that assistant principals helped Baltimore County schools meet 10 of the 13 goals set by the Maryland State Performance Program. "These assistant principals are indispensable," he said, noting that they also help enforce the schools' anti-drug and anti-alcohol policies, which are the strictest in the state.
The report also compared Baltimore County schools with schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which offers a roughly equivalent academic program. Discounting public school administrators in mandated vocational, special and alternative education slots, the audit said that Baltimore County has one administrative employee for every 185 students and the Archdiocesan schools have one for every 2,000 students.
Dr. Dubel said Baltimore County "should have been compared to other large school systems, like Baltimore City, not to Carroll and Harford counties." He called the comparison with the archdiocese "ludicrous."
"We have responsibilities under federal and state law which do not apply to private schools," he said. "We run a whole bus system, for example, so those comparisons are meaningless."
The audit found that the county has, on average, more secretarial and clerical employees in administration than do other jurisdictions. And it noted that Baltimore County schools offer eight more paid leave days, on average, than other %J suburban systems.
Re-thinking the leave policy could save hundreds of thousands of dollars, the audit contended.
The report also questioned the assignment of some department cars to administrators who are supposed to be "on call 24 hours" but who may not always be available. In addition, the audit noted that nearly half the county cars taken home each night by school officials do not travel 8,500 business miles per year, one of the department's own criteria for allocating cars.
It found that no logs were kept and that employees who reimburse the schools for driving department cars to and from work pay only 7.5 cents per mile, a rate unchanged since 1976.
Dr. Dubel conceded that the county has allowed "lower-paid employees" to drive county cars at the 7.5-cent rate. He said the charge will be increased soon to 10 cents.
School officials have until the end of the month to file an official reply to the audit.