Arundel superintendent: Leopold wrong on school funding

January 25, 2012

It is more than unfortunate that Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold continues to imply that funding our school system is like throwing money into a bottomless abyss with absolutely no return on investment ("School funding mandate hurts counties," Jan. 19). There are certainly flaws with the state's maintenance of effort law, but the bigger problem in our county is Mr. Leopold's ongoing disparaging comments and his desire to control our school system in a dictatorial fashion.

We are an asset, not a liability, in our county's efforts to attract businesses, agencies and residents. We have room to improve, but we are one of the best school systems in a state ranked No. 1 in the nation in education for four consecutive years. Last year's seniors, for example, garnered a record $99.6 million in scholarship offers.

Our rise in teacher pay resulted from deliberate decisions made before my arrival to reduce salary disparities between our county and other Maryland districts. These increases were necessary to allow us to attract and retain competent, qualified employees.

Contrary to Mr. Leopold's assertions, it is our school system that had the foresight to make cuts as early as 2008 and 2009, when we reduced positions, eliminated salary increases, and furloughed all employees. In 2009, the county gave 3 percent raises to its employees, further complicating its issues as the economy worsened.

It is our school system that worked with our unions to save $4 million in health-care costs this year and avoid another $26 million in costs in future years. The county has yet to do so.

Mr. Leopold constantly touts that the school system has 50 percent of the county budget. So does county government, which has fewer than half the employees of the school system and far fewer facilities to manage.

This conversation needs to focus on continuing to provide a high-quality education, not an inexpensive one. Contrary to Mr. Leopold's assertion, the school system is not insular but works daily with county agencies to improve the lives of our children and citizens. It is time he not only takes note of our cooperative efforts, but joins them.

Kevin Maxwell, Annapolis

The writer is superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

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