Schools estimate cost of reforms

System likely to spend $3.8 million to meet latest federal regulations

Carroll County

April 06, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

After months of complaining about having to pay for the unspecified costs of new federal education requirements, Carroll school officials have preliminary estimates of how much the sweeping reforms will cost county taxpayers.

It's more expensive than expected: about $3,825,000 in a mix of annual and one-time expenses.

And school officials anticipate that figure will grow as they work through thousands of pages of regulations tied to the No Child Left Behind Act - some of which have been rewritten even as school systems across the country struggle to enact the most far-reaching federal education bill passed in nearly four decades.

To meet these "unfunded mandates," Carroll officials are seeking money from the state and federal governments. They met last week with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's aide, who promised to bring their concerns to the senator's attention.

Carroll officials predict they will spend a six-figure sum just to make sure they understand the new regulations.

"Conceptually, it's a great idea," Stephen Guthrie, Carroll's assistant superintendent of administration, said of the bill signed into law by President Bush in January last year. "But there are things that are just unworkable in a practical sense. And there are zero federal dollars for these new initiatives."

A new requirement that teachers must have teaching certificates in the subjects they teach - and take tests to prove their competency in those subjects - will cost the system about $2 million, Guthrie said.

A requisite that schools inform parents when their children are not being taught by instructors who meet those requirements will cost about $1 million in technology upgrades for databases that will link student schedules with teacher assignments and teachers' human resources files.

Costs of compliance

A provision that paraprofessional employees, such as kindergarten assistants, have at least an associate's degree or two years of college will cost the school district at least $700,000 a year in salary increases.

"The former qualification was a high school diploma, so there's some expectation that if the qualifications are higher, the pay would increase as well," Guthrie said. "Even I understand that, and I'm sitting on the management side."

Guthrie also estimates that the school system will have to spend about $25,000 more a year on recruiting to attract teaching applicants who meet the "highly qualified" requirement.

And, Guthrie said, an initiative designed to improve instruction for the neediest students requires school systems to spend scarce dollars on administrative tasks. Carroll schools will spend an estimated $100,000 in staff time for meetings and training to untangle the new regulations.

"A cottage industry has sprung up among people trying to help school systems comply with No Child Left Behind - for a fee, of course," Guthrie said.

The assistant superintendent also expects "significant unknown costs" from a provision that allows parents to transfer their children to another school if the current school is deemed "needing improvement" or "persistently dangerous."

What makes those expense estimates tricky, Guthrie said, is that no one has worked out how states will make those kinds of determinations, and no local school official can forecast how many parents will take advantage of the transfer option or how much it will cost to reroute buses to transport children to their new school of choice.

School administrators also can't put a price tag on intangibles, such as how much new state assessments will cost local districts in curriculum changes or staff time for interpreting assessment results.

`Highly qualified' staff

But of all the concerns generated by the No Child Left Behind Act, the most pressing remains the new standards that teachers must meet to be considered "highly qualified," Guthrie said. The $2 million cost of this provision comes from training materials and staff salaries.

"When local school systems require teachers to be retrained or retested, they have a financial obligation to provide for those teachers," said Harry Fogle, the director of elementary and special education. "When we require higher levels of training, it will cost us more to hire these highly qualified staff."

Guthrie estimates that about 40 percent of classes in Carroll public schools are being taught by teachers who do not meet the new federal requirements - in large part because Maryland did not require testing for teacher certification before 1987 and still does not require an assessment for teachers of kindergarten through third-grade.

"We have wonderful teachers who have been teaching for years, who have been Teacher of the Year award winners, and who now are not considered highly qualified by the federal law," Guthrie said.

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