There are many things that have inspired my run for office, but the most recent inspiration was a routine memo from my child’s school. In 2015, my son came home from middle school with a letter from his band teacher saying that the county had allocated $500 for the entire instrumental music program for 80 middle school kids. In a $1 billion budget, $500 was allocated for middle school instrumental music instruction. Those two numbers seems absurd. You can’t buy sheet music or an instrument with $500. So, I turned my budgeting skills on the Anne Arundel County Public School Budget. After my analysis, it was painfully clear that the budgeted priorities were not kids, teachers or classrooms. As a result, I decided to apply for an open position on the school board. Despite being an albeit conservative Democrat, the very Republican School Board Nominating Committee forwarded my name to the Governor for consideration. Why? Because I made the following pitch in 2016:
People may not be aware of the power of the budget in government. The budget is the ultimate policy document that government creates. The Maryland General Assembly has one constitutional mandate: pass a budget. That’s it. If something is funded, it’s a priority. If it’s not, well, it’s not. Since 2012, the school budget has grown by nearly 19% in the most recent budget approved by the Board. One of the largest growing budgets? Administration, by 35%. Instructional Wages and Salaries (the teachers) only grew by 14%. Teacher Classroom Funds? 5%. As a member of the Board, I would work with the School System to determine why the growth rate for administration far outpaces that for teachers and teacher classroom funds. I believe these are fundamental fiscal policy questions that should be asked, but do not seem to be.
Unfortunately, the budget process is a rather dense exercise that few people have the enthusiasm or experience to explore. I would lend a viewpoint that could be extremely valuable on the board and could result in resources being targeted for greater classroom achievements . As a small example, the budget for the Associate Superintendent for School Performance has increased by 183%, or $1.1 million since 2012. There are a few areas of the budget that could be explored for efficiencies. Budget Spending Category: Equipment. According to the budget notes, the Associate Superintendent requested no equipment; however, $25,000 for Equipment was budgeted in 2017. If we look at the budget for “Professional Development”. In FY 15, the unit spent $4,500 on this expense. Since 2012, the MOST spent on this line item in a fiscal year is $18,315. The budget for 2017 was approved by the board as $125,000, or a $120,500 raise over FY 15 and $107,000 increase over anything the unit spent since 2012.
Regional School Performance, another administrative program, grew by 31% over the same period. In category of “other charges”, the FY 17 budget for Regional School performance is $150,000. Oddly, from FY 12 through FY 15, there has been no expenditures in this category. Under “other contracted services”, the budget is $250,000 with a similar non-existent expenditure history. In this small space of time, I’ve raised the possibility of reallocating $525,000 for a higher priority. Imagine what could be uncovered with more discussion with the school system?
You can see how this message appeals to pretty much everyone, Republican or Democrat, who wants to use tax dollars used efficiently.
As an example, below is the Board of Education’s FY 2017 Budget for the Associate Superintendent for School Performance at it appeared before I testified. The FY 17 budget period begins July 1, 2016 and ends June 30, 2017. As you can see, no equipment was requested according to the description of the use of funds. On the next page, you can see the large increase in “Professional Development” as well as budgeted equipment money that allegedly was not requested.
You may wonder whether my testimony had an impact. I was not selected for the School Board, Governor Hogan chose Eric Grannon . However, the budget, which was ultimately approved after my testimony, was changed. The final budget for the Associate Superintendent for School Performance’s Professional Development line item was reduced from $125,000 to $15,500. The equipment budget was given a tardy explanation of “Large equipment purchases such as gym and athletic needs, having a per unit value greater than $5,000.” Funds for the School Management budget, which is where most classroom expenses are budgeted, rose by over $230,000.
Lastly, the FY 18 Board of Education Budget is currently under review by the County. Interestingly, there is now no money in the Assistant Superintendent for School Performance’s budget for equipment in either FY 17 (the year for which I voiced by objections to the “none requested” equipment) or FY 18:
Bottom line, my assumptions were correct, the Associate Superintendent for School Performance didn’t need as much money as was budgeted. My hope was that those funds could be reallocated for classroom use. Unfortunately, the coda to this story (pun intended) is that in the Fall of 2016 the band teacher informed us that the school system had only allocated $420 towards the music program, down from $500 the previous year.
Being an advocate on the outside can only be so effective. So, I am running for County Council to make sure government works for the children and the taxpayers.