Proving it is never too late to get an education, the Schaefer administration is sending two lame-duck Cabinet secretaries and five other political appointees to three-week courses at Harvard at a combined cost to taxpayers of more than $45,000.
Among the students is 78-year-old Budget Secretary Charles L. Benton Jr.
Also attending is Juvenile Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar. Though Ms. Saar is attending the conference on state time, her tuition and expenses are being paid by a national women's group.
In another six months, the Schaefer administration will be out of office, and the seven officials could be out of their jobs.
The program for senior executives in state and local governments at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government attracts 50 to 75 officials from across the country to each of two summer sessions.
Participants discuss crisis management and solutions to other governmental problems.
The cost is $7,600 per student. Maryland is also paying some travel and meal expenses for some of the seven, estimated at roughly $200 apiece. "The people are mostly in their 40s or 50s, but we have somebody in his 70s this time -- considerably older than the average," said Katherine Evans, a graduate student working in the Kennedy School of Government office this summer.
In addition to Mr. Benton, the state officials now at the conference are Eloise Foster, an assistant secretary in Mr. Benton's budget department; Michael J. Nelson, a deputy assistant secretary for public lands in the Department of Natural Resources; and Ms. Saar.
Registered to attend the second session in July at state expense are Carolyn Davis, an assistant secretary for administration at Natural Resources; Lois Whitaker, deputy secretary for operations at the Department of Human Resources; and Diane Gordy, executive director of the state's Social Services Administration.
Page W. Boinest, press secretary to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, defended the decision to send the group to Harvard.
She noted that Ms. Saar received funding for her tuition and other expenses from Women Executives in Government, a national women's group.
Ms. Boinest said most of the other Maryland officials attending the course hold midlevel positions and could survive next January's change in administrations.
As for Mr. Benton, who also was Baltimore's finance director when Mr. Schaefer was mayor, she said: "From all reports, Mr. Benton is making quite an impact on the group because of his depth of knowledge and insights. Who's to say Mr. Benton does not continue to have a career in public service in the state?"
Mr. Benton's classmates include the fire chief of Kansas City; the public works director of Lakewood, Ohio; the deputy city manager of Las Vegas; and Linda Mielke, administrator of the Carroll County public library, to name a few.
Sen. Laurence Levitan, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee, said, "It seems to me that at the end of an eight-year term, you certainly don't need to spend the money to send bureaucrats away when you know that their tenure in state government is probably about over."
But, he added, "Let's face it: The governor is not running for re-election, and certain things he's doing now, you can criticize him, and so what?
"He's just doing what he wants to do as he finishes out his career, and he's to some extent rewarding loyal service with a perk."
Mr. Levitan's counterpart, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, expressed no concern over the expenditure.
"Harvard would learn a lot from Mr. Benton's presence," the Baltimore Democrat said.
Recalling that the governor agreed last week to send $4.5 million to an elementary school in his district, Mr. Rawlings added, "For a governor who just agreed to fund Ashburton Elementary, he can send [Mr. Benton] to Paris for all I care."