Arundel group issues findings on schools

Recommendations include outsourcing, more funding

February 10, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school system should outsource food service and custodial work, accelerate the renovation of school buildings and increase funding for special education, according to a task force charged with examining and evaluating operations.

After 18 months of research, members of the budget task force, including parents and business leaders, presented a summary of their recommendations to school system staff and school board members last night. A final report will be ready by the end of the month.

Union leaders said they are wary of the report. After rumors surfaced last year about an outsourcing recommendation by the task force, members of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents cafeteria employees, maintenance and transportation workers, protested at a school board meeting.

Last night, the task force told board members that outsourcing noneducation positions would help stem the increasing number of retirees. Projections show that the number of active employees will equal retired staff by 2010.

Union president

James Sollers, president of the local chapter of AFSCME, said the group might have overestimated savings and promised to continue to fight the effort.

"There's a lot of things our people do that when they contract it out, it's going to cost extra," he said.

School board members said they would not approve outsourcing.

"I told the unions I wouldn't consider it during my term as president," board President Edward P. Carey said after the meeting.

Other members said system employees are dedicated.

Carey said he planned to focus on the task force's general recommendations when considering Superintendent Eric J. Smith's $733 million budget proposal. The school board is to settle on a budget request Wednesday and forward it to County Executive Janet S. Owens.

The task force formed subcommittees to examine five areas, including administration, instruction and special education. They also investigated fixed charges, which mostly consist of employee benefits and operations, which includes transportation, food service and maintenance.

Members selected Howard County, where students have earned the state's highest test scores, as a comparison in several categories.

Anne Arundel, the group discovered, spends $640 less per pupil on instruction and special education services, and $124 more per pupil on benefits for retired and current employees.

The task force described the school system's escalating benefit rates and retiree costs as "potential time bombs." Although the system has good benefits compared with other counties, the teacher turnover is still high.

The discussion of benefits worried Sheila M. Finlayson, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

"I have great concern for retirees, because of the threat of losing what they've earned," she said.

Special-education spending also was analyzed by the task force, which found that the county spends more money for special education because it lacks specialized services and must place students with severe disabilities in schools outside the system.

Howard County makes a significant investment in early-childhood programs so students won't need more services later.

The subcommittee recommended that the school system use $9 million for early interventions to help identify pupils who are struggling, and nearly $500,000 to support high school students with special needs.

Board member Michael G. Leahy questioned all comparisons to Howard County, noting the different demographics of the two counties. He said spending more money does not guarantee improvements.

Building maintenance and renovation recommendations were based on a study conducted by a committee created by former County Executive John G. Gary and presented to Owens in 1999.


Members of the panel's operations subcommittee found that few of the earlier study's recommendations were followed. As a result, the maintenance backlog has increased to $157 million and the amount needed to renovate buildings has more than doubled, to $750 million.

Total replacement of aging school buildings could reach $1 billion.

The task force also noted that the school system's business practices were outdated and that educators had been assigned to positions in business departments such as human relations and purchasing even though they lacked expertise.

The task force recommended hiring a chief operating officer to assist the superintendent with the business end of the school system.

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