Our public schools belong to all of us. They are a public resource. They prepare our children for the future. As I head into my third budget season as superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools, I want to put a few facts on the table. And armed with these facts, I invite you to help me keep the promise that public education offers to our children.
First, public education is a great investment in the future of our children and our community. Tremendous benefits flow back to communities that invest in their public schools. High school graduates are twice as likely to be employed and three times less likely to need public assistance, saving billions of tax dollars nationally each year. Likewise, we know how important it is to raise the next generation of community leaders, to prepare our future workforce, and to make sure our children have good jobs in strong neighborhoods right here in Frederick. Public education helps make that happen.
Second, FCPS stretches every dime to the limit. During challenging economic times, we’ve deferred pay raises, furloughed employees, cut positions, consolidated bus routes, used energy saving tools to cut costs, and reduced departmental and school budgets, among other things. We’ve partnered with the county government to find synergies — from using county fuel depots to save on transportation costs to absorbing the county’s warehouse functions to provide savings for the Board of County Commissioners. We are maximizing our community’s investment while protecting the classroom as much as possible.
Finally, we’re one of the best school systems in the state and nation. Our students outperform their peers across the country. We proudly highlight the state and national awards our schools earn every year. These are things we’ve all worked hard to achieve. These accomplishments reflect the lengths to which our dedicated teachers and principals will go to give our students the best education possible.
These are the facts. It’s also a fact that for the last five years, FCPS has received maintenance of effort funding or, put simply, the same dollars per pupil as the year before. Since maintenance of effort doesn’t include inflationary factors, maintenance does not mean you maintain but that you must cut in order to balance the budget. Maintenance of effort doesn’t keep up with rising health care costs, increased fuel costs or allow for salary increases. So rather than maintaining the status quo, FCPS is cutting services. That’s beginning to take a toll on our staff and our students.
So what does this mean? The priorities our community has identified for our school system are deferred year after year. When we wanted to put math specialists into our elementary schools to boost math teaching and improve the skills of our youngest learners, we couldn’t afford the $2 million price tag. Students asked me to request more counselor positions in our middle and high schools. They know firsthand what it takes to apply for college or try to find a career and how important counselors are. The counselor-to-student ratio in our high schools is a dismal 1:334. But the cost for a boost in these positions was about $800,000 — an ongoing cost that we couldn’t afford.
From early foreign language teaching to better technology in our classrooms to expanding the Career and Technology Center, the list of benefits and opportunities denied to our students goes on and on. Every year of maintenance of effort funding makes it harder and harder for FCPS to fund the things our schools and students need, much less the things they want.
Maintenance of effort is a rearview mirror. Why aren’t we keeping our eyes forward and focusing on our children’s future?
Dr. Theresa Alban
is superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools.