Budget cuts to schools will hurt quality of education
Joan Fidler, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, made some interesting points Feb. 16 in response to my and Yvette Cuffie's letters on Jan. 12, which now are particularly relevant given the Montgomery County Council's aggressive cuts to public education funding.
As justification for these cuts, she indicated only 25 percent of county households have children in public schools. This conveniently excludes households that benefited in the past and those who will benefit in future. Many services, both public and private, are not provided on a pay-as-you-use basis.
Fidler was correct in pointing out taxpayers have the ultimate say in determining how much should be allocated to public education. However, there are consequences to reduced funding, such as more crowded classrooms, less student and parent access, diminished programs and poorer facilities. Although these might be mitigated by decreasing teacher compensation, the known difficulty in attracting good teachers particularly in math and science will be exacerbated.
Montgomery County teachers are not overcompensated when compared to earnings of other professionals in the same geographic area (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2009, Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick Metropolitan Division). Not only will there be a detrimental effect from reduced compensation, but bad feeling caused by a sense of unfairness and unkept agreements, and teacher bashing will further diminish the attractiveness of public school teaching and affect the dedication of those that remain. A debased and demoralized teaching staff is not compatible with high quality education.
Fidler points to the added burden that higher taxes would place on the county's low income households. Concern for these poorer households is incongruous with a lack of concern for the more concentrated and therefore much larger burden that reduced compensation would place on teaching households. Montgomery County is the 12th richest county in the U.S., reflecting many high-income earners. The added burden to poorer households can be avoided by making taxes more progressive. This would be fair because high income households are more likely to be in occupations that contributed to and profited from the stock and housing bubbles at the root of the current economic crisis.
If targeting teachers and cannibalizing public education is what Montgomery County taxpayers want, then so be it. But what they think they will get and what they actually get might be far apart. Less harmful ways of resolving the county's budgetary problems need to be carefully considered. Knee-jerk solutions have a way of kicking us in the backside.
A balanced approach would be to increase taxes and other county revenues, with the burden falling more heavily on higher income groups, and to reduce services starting with the more expendable.
It is naive of the County Council to think cuts to Montgomery County Public Schools in any category do not affect classroom instruction.
During the past eight years, spending on MCPS has decreased from 52 percent of the budget to 44 percent. The past two years there have been no salary increases and hundreds of employees have taken downgraded positions, which resulted in huge pay cuts. If our contribution to health care costs increases, there will be large decreases in take-home pay that will need to be replaced by other means most likely, educators will be taking on second or in some cases, third jobs.
If MCPS employees take on additional outside work during the school year, do you really think they will be able to put the necessary time and effort into preparation for classroom instruction?
I can tell you that in my 10-month position I work more than enough hours to spread out across 12 months, and then I also spend time in the summer preparing, taking continuing education, and working in other places to make ends meet.
Do you really think that we will be able to maintain quality services to students when we are struggling even more to meet our basic needs?
Katherine Ross-Keller, Germantown
In ["Montgomery council wants cuts to school employees' health care benefits," May 18], I applaud Council President Valerie Ervin for attempting equity among all employees.
To clarify, county employees pay 20 percent versus Montgomery County Public Schools employees, who pay 5 percent for health benefits currently. The disparity is clear.
Per the article, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield stated the reduction in benefits to the MCPS budget is not practical. I agree. During the fiscal 2011 budget process, the County Council proposed cutting the MCPS budget by $33 million. The cut was based on all employees taking at least five days of furlough for fiscal 2011. The MCPS reduction was decreased to $24.4 million after the school board threatened to sue the council. For fiscal 2011, no MCPS employee took furloughs. The reductions were to the MCPS operating and capital budgets. They directly affected school operations and classrooms.
If the council wishes to have equity among employees and reduce spending, a resolution should be passed that would require that all employees paid out of the county coffers pay a set minimum percentage into their health and retirement benefits.
I am sure the unions would not like this, but it would be equitable.
Lisa Dorney, Gaithersburg
The great American tradition of defunding public education as soon as most of the white kids are gone is not a tradition Montgomery County should be following.
Admit it, the only tangible effect of the national recession on most of the county's homeowners has been a cut in property taxes big enough to pay for a vacation in Spain.
We remain well able to support public education at the current level, and it is our duty to do so.
The young, whether their ancestors already were here in 1492 or whether they arrive tomorrow, are the future of the U.S.
James Mallos, Silver Spring