Sauerbrey unveils plan for education She wants to hire 1,000 teachers in improvement effort

Phonics would be key

GOP candidate wants study of performance testing

July 29, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

HAGERSTOWN -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey outlined a modestly priced education reform plan yesterday that would put an additional 1,000 teachers in Maryland classrooms and promote phonics-based reading instruction.

Sauerbrey also called for a review and possible overhaul of the state's 8-year-old school performance testing program, which has drawn national acclaim but has been criticized by some parents.

While she could not provide a total cost figure for her proposals, they would appear to require a relatively small increase in the $2 billion a year the state sends to local school systems. Sauerbrey, a former high school biology teacher, said she would seek greater accountability of the money already being spent.

"You tell me where the money is going," she said at a news conference outside a Hagerstown elementary school. "It's certainly not going into teachers' salaries or supplies. The numbers don't add up."

But as she outlined her plan, Sauerbrey appeared to stumble on two issues.

She asserted that "there has not been any across-the-board increase in education spending" during the four-year administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening. In fact, the General Assembly this year approved legislation that will send an additional $68 million annually to local school systems statewide.

Sauerbrey also proposed giving county governments the right to audit schools in their jurisdictions to make sure tax dollars are being spent appropriately.

That issue, however, was addressed in 1996 when the General Assembly passed legislation giving local governments the right to undertake performance audits of their school systems. Should the school system not agree to the audit, the state Board of Education has the authority to step in and handle the audit.

In an interview later, Sauerbrey said she was not aware of the audit law. On the matter of state education aid increases, she said she had not paid attention to the details of the spending package passed this year, which sent additional money to all 24 of the state's jurisdictions.

"It was not my belief that there had been across-the-board increases," she said. "I would have to go back and look at how that money was really allocated."

The centerpiece of her education platform -- hiring 1,001 additional teachers by the year 2002 -- would cost roughly $40 million over four years, she said. The money could be found, she said, by achieving savings in bureaucratic costs. If not, she said the state would nonetheless pay for the teachers.

Sauerbrey said the teachers would be placed mainly in elementary schools to boost reading instruction, particularly in areas such as Baltimore where test scores are generally lagging behind other parts of the state.

In other areas:

Sauerbrey called for at least 90 percent of all new state education aid to go into classroom instruction, not front office costs.

She said she would use the office of governor to promote the use of phonics to improve reading instruction. Such curriculum decisions would still be left to local school boards, in conjunction with the state board.

She called for an end to "social promotions" for students who are not doing adequate work.

All of the major candidates for governor have made education reform a top campaign issue.

Sauerbrey's Republican rival, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, has called for toughening standards for public school students -- and, like Sauerbrey, doing away with social promotions. He also has said he would push for smaller class sizes in early grades and better teacher training.

On the Democratic side, the two top contenders, Glendening and Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, have given only a glimpse of their education agendas for the next four years.

Rehrmann is calling for hiring 2,000 reading teachers, creating alternative schools for disruptive students and placing a computer in every classroom. She is expected to provide details as early as Monday.

Glendening, who also has called for reducing class size, is expected to provide details of his proposals shortly before the Sept. 15 primary.

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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