Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Montgomery County Budget Woes

I suppose I don't really have much to say about the budget and furloughs and the politics that goes along with it. It's all just a bit much, and there are other websites that do a heck of a job following the mess of a process. I read those articles, and associated commentary, and then I try to read messages delivered by my union representatives and I can only come to one conclusion: I've got almost no idea what is actually happening. County Councilmen are claiming they have to raise the reserve requirement from 5% to 6% to maintain a AAA credit rating while the union reports back that only one of three rating agencies suggested this was really necessary (but that 3rd one is more concerned about other areas). So the council would lie because... (seriously, someone help me out)??? And now the Board of Education has approved a law suit against the county council for cutting funds because somehow the county council is not in charge of the budget, even though they think they are, or something more sophisticated than that but not really. As I've said before, this is more than any good citizen should have to bare.

I do know this. MCPS is a huge bureaucracy that has grown considerably over the last decade. From the PAR program, to the Northeast Consortium, to the creation of staff developers in every school building, to other expenses no one thinks twice about, hundreds of millions of dollars in programs have been put into place. I've got no problem with any of these programs as a stand alone program. But the problem is they are never truly reevaluated. Maybe I'm wrong, but does anyone have a sense that red pens are ever taken to these programs? We are never trimming fat, only adding it. We add these programs and they immediately become fixed costs that cannot be sacrificed. Then, when the budget gets smaller, there's nothing to cut. It's time like these that private businesses make hard and difficult decisions to become leaner and more efficient. They cut investments in physical capital, and unfortunately, human capital. They do this, so that when business returns to normal, they deliver a higher quality service than when they started. The question I have is whether furloughs will do this.

The seniority system defended by the union prevents MCPS from becoming a better, higher functioning educational system. No one likes to fire people, and I certainly benefit from the protections of tenure, but our youngest teachers should not bare the brunt of firings simply and only because they are youngest. Imagine how much students would benefit if 300 of the least effective educators were fired instead of 300 of the youngest?

That's the sad part of this whole quagmire: MCPS and the County are going to be no better off when this is over than when it started.

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