More state funding needed for basics in county schools, lobbying group says

June 13, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Harford school spending lags far behind some schoo systems in Maryland, and the county needs millions more in state money to hire teachers and to buy basics such as textbooks and computers, says a statewide lobbying group.

The Maryland Education Coalition, an organization that seeks more state money for education, told the Harford school board it needs to hire 84 more teachers and to buy 500 more computers to reach the state's per-pupil average.

The coalition -- made up of local school boards, teachers unions and other groups -- is asking the state to revise the formula for doling out money for education.

"Every child should get the same education regardless of where they live. The wealth of a community should not determine the quality of a child's education," said Joan Roache, a community organizer for the coalition.

The coalition wants the state to give more money to school systems like Harford, which have less to spend on education than the state average, Tru Ginsburg, the coalition's public policy director, said at the school board's Thursday night meeting.

The 34,000-student Harford school system spends an average of $4,427 a student, compared with the state average of $5,135. The county ranked 20th of Maryland's 24 subdivisions in local school spending for the 1991-1992 school year, the last year for which statistics are available. Only Wicomico, Allegany, Garrett and Caroline counties spent less.

Harford lawmakers have approved about $87 million in county money for schools for fiscal 1994, which begins July 1, or about 55 percent of the county's estimated $164 million operating budget. Harford also expects to get about $72.5 million from the state for the local school system.

The county spends about 58 cents of each tax dollar on education -- more than the state average of 55 cents. But Harford relies more on property taxes than other subdivisions and has a much smaller industrial tax base, putting the county at a disadvantage.

Mrs. Ginsburg said the coalition will pitch its plan, which would change the state education spending formula to include many ** costs not now factored in, such as teaching special education children, to the Governor's Commission on State Funding for Education.

The commission is to address the disparities that result when Maryland's richest public school system spends some 55 percent more to educate students than does the state's poorest school district. The 25-member commission is charged with studying school funding in Maryland and developing effective ways to hold schools accountable for their performance.

Harford Superintendent Ray R. Keech said he favored the coalition's plan because it would mean more state money for Harford.

"Money does make a difference. If we spent even the state average, we'd be dangerous. Harford schools do very well on so little," he said.

Despite below-average spending, Harford students score better than average on aptitude tests.

G. William Rufenacht, Harford schools finance director, warned that the coalition's plan, like some other plans the governor's commission is considering, would give the state more authority over spending.

"There would be a big increase in state control," he said. "They would have the power to reward or sanction schools that do meet certain standards. The state could [fire] a school's administration or instructional staff if the school does not achieve certain goals."

Ronald Eaton, school board member, said he also worried about the board losing control of local schools. "I have a problem with the state telling us that they know more about our schools than we do," he said.

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