Too many 'edu-crats'?

September 16, 1992

The trouble with a new report to determine whether Ann Arundel County's school system is "top heavy," with too many employees in administrative positions, is that it hardly addresses that issue at all. The Citizens Advisory Committee on School System Management and Administration dismisses the question of administrative staffing in one vague sentence: "The committee did not find the administrative staffing level to be oversized when compared with other school systems in Maryland and across the nation."

This statement does not begin to satisfy the critics who believe too many "edu-crats" work at school headquarters on Riva Road. The report doesn't say how many people are employed there, much less explain what they do. It includes no recommendations about which positions could be merged or eliminated. It dismisses the issue of staff levels based on a comparison with other school systems, never exploring whether those systems also may be bloated. Finally, it ignores the real question, which is not whether there are too many administrative workers compared to other systems, but whether there are too many for Anne Arundel County.

The committee report does provide some useful observations about the need for direction in what is now a rudderless system. The Board of Education has no sense of mission, the commission notes. It needs a "road map," a plan to describe operations, programs and services that the system should provide. The board should direct the superintendent to design a strategy, then step back and let him use it. Whether eight board members accustomed to meddling in day-to-day operations will be willing to curb their micro-management proclivities seems doubtful. But that is what they should do.

The commission also pinpoints other flaws. There are no management audits to make sure employees perform as they are supposed to, and, due to a lack of money, no in-service training. Personnel can be better distributed. Some services can be privatized or merged with county government to save money. School officials should be more open with the public.

These are all valid suggestions. Still, they do nothing to address the concern that prompted the report in the first place -- that the school system's central offices are too fat. This issue is not going away. Next year, when everyone begins grappling for a piece of the county budget pie, we'll hear again that there's room to slash school headquarters on Riva Road, and we still won't know whether it's true.

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