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Volume 15, Issue 30 ~ July 26 - August 1, 2007


Chesapeake Bay Disease Has Infected Our Schools

Anne Arundel Pubic Schools seem to have caught a resistant case of Chesapeake Bay Disease. We think so because no matter how much money we keep pouring in, neither seems to get any better.

We’ve been inching toward that worrisome conclusion for some time.

The high price of school superintendents set us on that road. When the last one, Eric Smith, left, we wondered if we’d gotten our money’s worth. We worried a little more when we hired a new one, Kevin Maxwell, paying him far and away the county’s highest salary, $225,000.

Over the last months, we traveled farther down that road, with Maxwell and the School Board sounding like disgruntled beggars as they berate County Executive John Leopold for cutting their died-and-gone-to-heaven budget requests.

We made up our minds after studying a recent Forbes Magazine article that gave poor-to-average ratings to not only Anne Arundel County but also Calvert County schools.

In an article titled “Best and Worst School Districts for the Buck,” the business magazine stacked up per-pupil spending in public schools against student performance as measured in college entrance exams, exam participation rates and graduation rates.

The winners, according to the magazine, are counties where schools perform well at low cost. The losers spend heavily with few results.

Of 97 school districts across the country where 50 percent of funding comes from property taxes, the winner was Marin County, California ($6,579 per pupil), just north of San Francisco. In its senior classes, 96.8 percent graduated, 60.4 percent took the SAT college entrance exam and scored a mean 1133 (out of 1600).

In Chesapeake Country, our schools didn’t fare well based on what we spent. Anne Arundel schools ($8,217 per pupil) ranked 75th with an 83 percent graduation rate and 51 percent of SAT taking seniors averaging 1056 on their tests.

Calvert ($7,166) ranked 51st in terms of its successes with a 90 percent graduation rate and 57 percent of seniors who took college entrance tests scoring a mean of 1050.

In Anne Arundel, the handsomely paid Maxwell argues that successful schools cost money. Reviewing the Forbes study, he blamed inadequate funding for the poor showing of his schools. We’re not surprised. But we don’t give his logic a passing grade, since the ratings were based on how much money is spent.

The Forbes study brings new and welcome cost accountability to the debate. Most of us are not experts on educational success, just as we’re not the ones to write the exact dosages in the prescription for healing Chesapeake Bay.

But we are the ones who pay the bills. In return for all our money, we expect the same kind of realism we apply to our own budgets, at home and in our businesses.

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