Trimming School Bureaucracies

January 18, 1995

In Anne Arundel County, Superintendent Carol S. Parham is calling the bluff of critics who say her school system doesn't need more money because it wastes what it has on administrative bureaucracy.

Dr. Parham is proposing to the school board a $437.7 million operating budget that would eliminate 21 administrative positions and use the $1 million savings to buy textbooks and other instructional materials. She also plans to drop the school system's adult education program, leaving that work to the county community college.

Dr. Parham gets an "A" for listening when politicians were lining up during last fall's election to criticize public schools for wasteful spending. Some other school officials, however, must have been playing hooky at the time.

In Howard County, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey recently proposed a 5.6 percent increase in the school budget. He steadfastly refuses to cut the $7 million his county spends on school administration, pleading with council members to give him more time. If Dr. Hickey was as aggressive about trimming fTC the bureaucracy as he has been about shifting teachers and principals, the deed would be done already.

In the past, Anne Arundel school officials too resisted administrative cuts, contending that administrative costs account for only 3 percent of their budget. Even though Anne Arundel spends less on administration that other jurisdictions, the astute Dr. Parham showed she understands the political game.

Don't be mistaken, she is not talking about cutting school spending. She wants to increase the operating budget by $51 million over the current spending plan. But Dr. Parham hopes that by eliminating 21 administrative positions and redirecting the savings into textbooks, she will be able to diffuse criticism from a newly conservative County Council -- not unlike Howard's political situation -- and persuade its members to give her money for projects she really wants.

Anne Arundel's Dr. Parham is moving in the right direction with her first budget. If the school board goes along with the cuts, more authority would be restored to teachers and principals. And at least some money would be taken from the bureaucrats and given to the students.

Other school systems should take note.

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