Harford keeping education costs down

County ranks near bottom in administrative outlays

December 07, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

There is very little fat, if any, in the Harford County public schools' budget, according to the State Department of Education.

State figures released last week show that the school system's administrative costs were among the lowest in the state for the school year ended June 2002.

Its spending on such things as administrative salaries and central office operations was ranked 22nd out of the 24 jurisdictions in Maryland.

Harford spent 2.2 percent, or $141 per student, of its revenue on administration.

The administrative cost per student compares with $564 in Baltimore City and a state average of $238. Harford's administrative costs, per student, are 75 percent lower than in Baltimore City.

"In Harford County we attempt to spend all available revenue on programs that are a direct service to students, that impact student achievement," said Donald R. Morrison, a spokesman for the school system. "There is a conscious effort to control costs. Our administration is very lean by any standards."

Robert S. Magee, the school board president, agreed.

"I don't think we are top-heavy on administrative personnel," he said. "The administration is stretched thin, but they do an outstanding job. I'm impressed with the work they do."

Magee said the school system "seeks to figure out the appropriate use for every dollar it receives." He said the current school budget is $260 million.

Harford's administrative spending per pupil exceeded only those in Caroline and Carroll counties.

Carroll County's administrative costs were the lowest in the state - $133 per student. Caroline County on the Eastern Shore spent $140 per student.

The Harford school board's conservative spending was seen in the new contract it reached in March with Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas.

The contract allowed for an 8 percent pay raise to $135,000 a year. The salary is below what her counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions were being paid at the time, according to the State Department of Education.

According to state figures, the schools chief in Baltimore had a base salary of $192,000. In Anne Arundel County the superintendent was paid $197,000 a year and in Baltimore County the job paid $185,400.

In Cecil County the superintendent was paid $125,000 a year, and in Carroll the salary was $120,000.

One area where Harford ranked high in spending was in building maintenance. It ranked eighth in the state, spending $170 per student on building maintenance.

There are two reasons for this, Morrison said.

"First, we have a lot of old buildings that need a lot of work to keep them functional," he said. "Second, we spend a lot of money on making buildings conducive to student achievement."

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